West has one of the better offenses in the conference, but the defense doesn’t yet complement it, in large part because of inexperience and a lack of size, Leon said.
Sophomore Nathan Dudukovich, who played off the bench as a freshman, leads the team with 20.9 points per game, ranking second in the GMC only behind Mason’s Trey Killens. East’s Johnson follows with 19.6 points per game, and West senior Kelvin Turner is right behind at 19.4.
Leon said Dudukovich and Turner have stepped up to replace the production lost with the graduation of Julian Mackey and Carter Combs, who combined to account for almost 60 percent of the points last year.
“Sean Van Winkle, who used to coach here (prior to 2014), calls them ‘fire and ice,’” Leon said. “They’ve done a really nice job together.”
Dudukovich, whose parents both played at Butler University, has a “bright future” but already has matured into a strong leader, according to Leon. Turner, a solid shooting guard, played for West as a sophomore two years ago but transferred to Princeton last season and came back ready to prove himself.
Senior forward Brady Weber leads the GMC in rebounding with 10.2 boards per game, and no one else in the conference is averaging more than 6.8 rebounds.
“He’s a three-year starter so since I’ve been a head coach, he’s been a part of things,” Leon said. “He’s a captain, leader, great role model and he’s only 6-(foot)-4 so to lead the league in rebounds, that just shows his determination and hustle. I can’t say enough about Brady. I’m already feeling sad knowing in a month or so I’ve got to say goodbye. To have these six sophomores and then Brady’s leadership, it’s been a perfect match for us.”
The Firebirds also feature sophomore forward Jason Lavender and sophomore point guard Trent Lloyd, who has missed the last six games because of a hip injury. Leon said they’ve replaced Lloyd by committee for now but once he’s back, West will be “even better.”
Lavender and Weber work well together inside to combat bigger teams. Malachi Irby and Milton Wambugu round out the senior class, and the other three sophomores are Josh Fussell, Ben Minich and Christopher Barber.
“Our freshman team went 22-0 last year, so we brought up five more guys to join (Dudukovich) and these young guys are good,” Leon said. “They are a special group. We’re getting them valuable experience right now. Hopefully the next couple years we can be pretty good.”
West went 8-8 last year but a run at the end of the season to reach a district final. Leon said considering the number of sophomores on his team this year, the Firebirds “are a little ahead of the game” in terms of where he thought they would be as he continues his rebuild after a 4-19 finish in 2017-18 before he came on board.
“I’m not sure where we’re going,” Leon said. “It’s a tough schedule, really tough league. Going in, I felt if we finished .500 I’d be happy, but for the first time we’re actually in the mix (in the GMC) and if we could get a win Friday night, that would be huge. It’s going to be a challenge, but hopefully we have a chance to be a little better than we thought.”