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Prep boys basketball: East setting high bar coming off 16-win season

Clint Adkins describes last season as a good one for his Lakota East High School boys basketball team, but not satisfying enough.

This season, the Thunderhawks want to be great again.

East finished 16-8 overall and 11-5 in the Greater Miami Conference last year and has every reason to believe this season will be better as it gets under way Dec. 5 at Wilmington. The conference’s leading scorer, Jarrett Cox, returns to the Hawks’ lineup along with three other starters, and there is more depth to pull from off the bench.

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“A lot of people would be happy to be 16-8,” Adkins said. “We liked it, but didn’t reach our goal. Our goal is to be great. We want to win championships. I think we’re capable of doing those things. We have the ability to win if they want it. I like this group — they play hard and practice well together — but we’ve got to get better. We are not as good as we can be right now.”

It’s a much different feeling going into this season after having to rebuild the roster last year following the graduation of eight seniors from the 2015-16 squad.

This time around East lost just one senior that played significant minutes as Evan Kuhlman (16 points per game) went on to Evansville and everyone else expected to contribute returned. The Hawks also picked up Lakota West transfer Bash Wieland, who looks to make an immediate impact.

Cox, who averaged 18.2 points last year, will once again lead the way, and he is joined by returning senior guards Jackson See (7 ppg) and Jalen Peck (2 ppg) and junior forward Kyrell Metts (4.2 ppg). Several others will receive a chance to contribute, including 6-foot-6 sophomore Alex Mangold, who moved up from junior varsity at the end of last year, and freshman backup point guard Nate Johnson.

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“Going in last year, we had a lot of guys that never even practiced varsity before, so they were new to what it takes,” Adkins said. “We’ve got a lot of guys back with that experience now. Last year, we just didn’t play many guys. We went six, seven deep at times and a lot of guys that practiced varsity didn’t get a lot of game experience, so those guys will have to step up and show they can do it in games now, but I think they are ready now.”

The lack of depth took a toll on East last year, especially at the end of the season. The Hawks trailed Mason by just two entering the fourth quarter of their Division I sectional final and ended up losing by 18.

Now the Hawks have eight to 10 players in the rotation, which Adkins said will be “huge.”

Cox can still be counted on for a lot of the scoring, but won’t necessarily have to do as much on his own this season. Adkins doesn’t expect one player to fill Kuhlman’s shoes; however, there are a handful of other good shooters that will make up for the lost production by committee, and that should help take some pressure off Cox.

“We’ve got some good shooters, but we’ve also got a lot of guys that can do some other things besides scoring,” Adkins said.

East will once again look for its defense to control the pace of the game, but the Hawks will take advantage of more athleticism this year to play a little faster in transition and get up and down the floor quicker.

That’s where the depth also comes in, but Adkins said it will be important for the team to come together as a unit.

“That’s a big part of whether we are successful or not this year is how close we are off the court and how together we are on the court,” Adkins said. “If we’re together, we have a chance to be a special team. If not, it will be a repeat of last year.

“We’re adding depth, so expectations are high in the community and the league and for ourselves. If we don’t meet those, it will be very disappointing.”

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