TERRE HAUTE —
Heading into the 2011-12 boys high school basketball season, expectations were high for the Linton Miners.
But to the disappointment of their supporters, they compiled a modest 12-10 record and lost their first game in the Class 2A sectional.
Many of the same players returned for this season, including senior standouts Dess Fougerousse and Austin Karazsia. Both plan to play college basketball next season, although neither is sure where yet.
So far, disappointments have been minimal for the Miners as they went 18-3 in the regular season. Coach Joey Hart’s crew captured the SouthWestern Indiana Athletic Conference championship outright for the first time ever, won the Greene County Invitational title and retained possession of the Greene County Keg.
“Every season is different,” Hart told the Tribune-Star. “I’ve loved coaching these guys. It’s been a lot of fun. Our kids have handled the pressure great. It’s been a blast.”
Hart mentioned that the 6-foot-5 Fougerousse and the 6-8 Karazsia are each averaging 20.5 points per game, while Fougerousse is grabbing 8.8 rebounds and Karazsia 8.6 boards per outing.
On top of that, Fougerousse became the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,322 points and counting as well as its all-time leading rebounder with 752.
Fougerousse also became Linton’s all-time leading assist man with 288, while Karazsia climbed into third place in scoring with 1,182 points so far and second in rebounds with 713.
“It all came together this year,” Karazsia admitted. “If you look at our point totals, they’re nearly identical.”
Ask members of the Miners what changed so much between seasons and you’re likely to get several different answers.
“Maturity, first and foremost,” Hart assessed. “Dess and Austin improved, not just offensively but defensively. They’ve been our leaders all year.
“They both gave a tremendous amount of effort. They really worked to make their senior year a special season. I feel like this year we have a lot more togetherness and a lot more trust in each other. These guys have played extremely well together.”
“This year compared to last year, we really had a commitment over the summer,” Karazsia said. “We just came together as a team. We knew what we had to do this year. There was no reason for us not to do well. We knew expectations were high and we just needed to perform.”
“Last year’s team had a little bit of lack of focus, mainly on my part,” Fougerousse added. “But this year, we’ve got seven guys who are all on the same page working toward one goal.”
Yes, the Miners won’t consider this campaign a success unless they fare better in the state tournament, which begins for them at 6 p.m. Wednesday when they face South Knox — which they defeated 58-49 in a regular-season clash Jan. 26 — in the Class 2A North Knox Sectional.
In addition to Fougerousse and Karazsia, Linton’s starters are seniors Jackson Bohnert and Keith Fulk and junior Bryant Jackson.
“Bryant Jackson has been hot for us lately,” Hart pointed out. “He’s been shooting the ball well. All three of those guys are exceptional defenders … and Keith Fulk had 14 assists a week ago Friday against North Central.”
“A lot of our role players have stepped up big,” Fougerousse noted. “Keith Fulk, who didn’t see much [playing] time last year, has been huge this year. He’s excellent at not turning the ball over and getting the ball in the right hands at the right time. Bryant Jackson is our best defender and he also does a lot of little things well.”
Key contributors off the bench include 5-9 junior guard Ryan Woodward and 5-9 freshman guard Joe Dieball.
There are seven seniors total, although one of them — former starting point guard Sam Dyar — tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the first minute against Sullivan in the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic at Terre Haute South back in December. He’s out for the season.
“For us to lose him and have the team success that we’ve enjoyed,” Hart said, “it’s been a testament to these guys’ togetherness and versatility.”
“Those are some great kids,” he continued about the seniors. “They’re exceptional kids. They’re what’s right with the program. … They’ve definitely done their job in building the foundation for the program.”
Looking ahead, Hart hopes these seniors get to add several more games to their high school careers, but he knows that won’t be easy in the North Knox Sectional.
“It’s very balanced,” the Miners’ coach explained. “People on paper are looking at us and Sullivan [as favorites]. … It should be a very competitive sectional.”
Meanwhile, Karazsia and Fougerousse sound like they’ve bought into the “one game at a time” approach that most coaches preach before the state tournament.
“We want to win seven games [which would be enough to win the state championship],” Karazsia mentioned. “If we win one game at a time, everything will take care of itself.”
“We plan on beating South Knox on Wednesday, beating Eastern Greene on Friday and Sullivan on Saturday,” Fougerousse emphasized. “That’s our only goals for now. If you go in not focused, any team can beat you.”