TERRE HAUTE —
Forced to play without injured standout Rhett Smith for roughly the first six weeks, Sullivan is still considered a co-favorite with Edgewood to win the Western Indiana Conference title in boys high school basketball this season.
Sullivan coach Jeff Moore said the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Smith, a junior who averaged 17 points per game last season, broke two fingers on his left (non-shooting) hand.
“He’s one of the best juniors in the state,” Moore mentioned. “There’s no doubt about that. We’ll be glad to get him back. But while he’s gone, we’ll be fine.”
Even though news of Smith’s injury has trickled to other WIC schools, coaches aren’t counting out the Golden Arrows to repeat as champions.
“Sullivan and Edgewood return everybody,” Northview coach Ernie Maesch pointed out. “If we progress like we hope … I want to win a WIC title.”
“Sullivan and Edgewood are going to be at or near the top, then the everyone else will be pretty close,” South Vermillion coach Rodney Idlewine predicted. “West Vigo will be strong. It’ll be a competitive conference again.”
With that in mind, below is a look at how the Wabash Valley parts of the WIC appear to stack up heading into tonight’s season openers.
• Northview — Entering his third season in charge of the Knights, Maesch will rely on six players who started at various times last season.
They are 6-1 senior guard Trent Lancaster (who tallied about 16 ppg last season), 5-10 junior guard Dillon Reynolds, 5-10 junior guard Damon Hyatt, 6-1 senior guard Caleb Mershon, 6-1 junior forward Chance Talbot and 6-5 senior forward Jacob Musgrave.
Maesch said his starting lineup could come from those six. Or it also may include 5-11 senior forward Hunter Robertson (who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament), 6-4 junior forward Jacob Ninesling, 6-4 junior forward Zach Hull and/or 6-4 junior forward Bryant Pestoff.
“I’m wanting to go with height,” Maesch explained. “I’ve got some height and I’m wanting to use it.”
Maesch also sounds pleased that his squad possesses much-needed depth because it is already banged up, although there are no serious injuries — yet.
Northview’s first game will be tonight at Vincennes Lincoln.
“I don’t know much about them,” Maesch said of the Alices. “I know we had a scrimmage at Princeton [on Saturday] and I thought we tried to execute what we practiced. We just have to get better at it.”
• South Vermillion — Fourth-year coach Idlewine has one returning starter from the Wildcats’ 13-10 campaign in 2009-10.
That would be 5-8 senior Dylan Reyher, whom Idlewine named as his starting point guard.
Other starters are expected to be 5-10 senior Dylan Haltom at the other guard, 6-5 junior Phillip Harpenau at center, 6-0 junior Brad Chambers at one forward and 6-3 junior Josh Vaughan or 6-3 senior Dion Scott at the other forward.
Idlewine said 6-4 senior James Craigmyle is another potential starter or at least one of the first substitutes, while 5-11 sophomore Kaden Lawson will be a back-up guard and 5-11 senior Scotty Johansen will be a back-up forward.
“So far this year, we’ve practiced extremely hard,” Idlewine assessed. “They’re very unselfish. They like to share the basketball… Defensively, I’m very pleased with where they’re at, but we’re still trying to catch up on the offensive end.”
South Vermillion will open tonight at Clay City.
“We’ve got a little bit of size and quickness,” Idlewine continued. “We’re just lacking game-time experience. The kids are ready to play, though.”
• Sullivan — In addition to Rhett Smith, the Arrows will look to returning starters David Bedwell (6-0, senior), Caleb Turner (6-1, junior) and James Lisman (6-0, junior) to provide leadership, offensive punch and defensive intensity.
Joining the mix is 6-1 senior Mason Gregory, a move-in from Scottsburg, where he scored about 15 ppg last season. Gregory ended up at Sullivan because he is coach Moore’s new stepson.
“It’s going to be pretty tough,” Moore said of his 21st season at the helm. “Even without Rhett being injured, it would have been tough because we won a lot of close games last year. I definitely think we are a better team this year, though. We still have a lot of talent. We have great kids. They play hard. You really can’t ask for more than that.”
Moore said 6-0 junior Kaleb Pirtle will probably start until Smith is able to return.
“I look at it like we’ve got six starters on this team,” the veteran coach noted.
Sullivan will tip off its season tonight at home against South Knox.
“We’re going to have a target on our backs every night,” Moore acknowledged. “We need to make sure we’re ready to play every night.”