One of the first things Lebanon High School boys basketball coach Kevin Higgins noticed about his returning players at the start of practices this preseason was how much more confident they look.
That was something lacking last year when only one player walked in with any varsity experience and four freshmen filled out the roster.
The Warriors graduated just two players, and although they were the team’s leading scorers a year ago, the majority of the lineup brings back experience that Higgins hopes pays off as Lebanon seeks to bounce back from an 8-15 finish.
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“We have the potential,” he said. “It’s better this year to start off in a better place. Last year we just had no idea what to expect because we had one guy that played at all. You never want to have that many young guys, but they got experience and now they aren’t surprised by it. Now guys have more confidence in what they can and cannot do so that helps everyone play to their strengths.”
Even Higgins is more confident in what he is doing.
The Warriors switched from a motion-type offense to a Princeton offense in the middle of the 2016-17 season, and it’s a system he feels is more fitting of his personnel.
It also helps Lebanon better match up with the competition in the second season of the new Greater Western Ohio Conference divisional breakdowns. The Warriors finished 3-8 in the GWOC National West last year while playing some new opponents they weren’t accustomed to facing. Higgins said the switch to the Princeton offense coincided with the turn in the schedule after seeing the divisional opponents one time.
“We should be a lot better offensively just knowing what we’re doing,” Higgins said. “We switched to the Princeton offense because it better fits the type of kids we have. We have some kids with high basketball IQs, and we have some 5-men that are versatile and can step out on the perimeter and do some things. It fits our skill set better … and we have a better sense now what we’re able to do in our league on a nightly basis.”
Lebanon was second to last in the GWOC in scoring with just 48 points per game, but the team returns three players that appeared in every game, including senior guard Drew Sekerak (6 points, 2.4 assists per game), junior forward Zach Huffman (6.2 ppg, 5 rebounds per game) and sophomore point guard Brendan Lamb (4.7 ppg).
Junior guard Sammy Stotts played in 20 games, chipping in 2 points per game, and will be counted on heavily this year as the Warriors seek to replace Parker Smith (13.3 ppg, 5 rpg) and Dakota Allen (10 ppg, 4.2 rpg).
Senior forward Harrison Hookfin, who saw some time off the bench last year, could be a surprise this year after growing about four inches to now standing at 6-foot-5. Sophomores Luke Arnold and Nick Lang also will see minutes.
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“Those guys will have to carry us,” Higgins said. “Some of the guys we’re counting on for depth are sophomores, so we don’t know what we’ll get, but the good thing is they dressed and practiced with us all year. We’re not going in 10-deep, but we know our main guys can carry us until we see who is ready to play at the varsity level.”
Lebanon, which opens Dec. 1 at Fairborn, can also potentially count on its defense to keep it in games early on. The Warriors allowed just 51.1 points per game last year, which was third best in the entire GWOC.
The scoring just needs to come a little quicker this time around. The Warriors’ last winning season came with a 14-10 finish in 2014-15.
“I think we’ve got a lot of 50-50 games, but we have a chance to be in every game,” Higgins said. “If we do what we’re supposed to, we can win a lot of them. We just have to make sure every day we give ourselves the best chance to be successful.”
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