Madison High School’s state semifinal run in football meant a fourth of the boys basketball roster just began practicing last week, but the Mohawks had such a productive summer, the late start shouldn’t set them too far back.
The Mohawks attended three team camps this summer, which was two more than usual, and they are starting in a much better place than a year ago when they were replacing all five starters.
Madison returns eight players who gained experience on last year’s team that finished 9-14, and the now 12-person squad grew even more cohesive this summer, coach Jeff Smith said.
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“We’re looking to turn things around, and with our maturity and experience playing together, I think we can do it,” Smith said. “We had a great summer and grew tighter as a group, and hopefully that pays off as we try to get things going in the right direction.”
The Mohawks were closer to a winning season than it looked on paper. Seven of their losses were by five points or less.
Leading scorer Grant Whisman, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, returns after averaging 18.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a freshman and is joined by key players like senior forwards Ben Paarlberg (6.4 ppg, 5 rpg) and Kevin Duritsch (3.3 ppg, 4 rpg), and junior guards Cameron Morgan (5.8 ppg) and Mason Whiteman (4.5 ppg, 4.2 apg).
Also returning are junior Ryan Duritsch and sophomores Matt Gomia and Tristan Sipple. They are joined by junior guard Evan Crim and sophomore guard Jake Phelps, who moved up from junior varsity, as well as 6-5 sophomore Jake Munafo, who moved into the district, and 6-6 Valley View transfer Levi McMonigle, who averaged 10.1 points per game as a sophomore last season with the Spartans.
“Our experience should be the biggest thing because we were so inexperienced last year with five new starters,” Smith said. “We were close in a lot of games, but just need to do a better job finishing. I think we’ll be a better rebounding team — we’re vertically a lot longer — and I think we’ll be a better shooting team this year. We have to get better defensively but we’re working daily on that, just trying to be a little tougher.”
The Mohawks mostly play a man defense but their size also will enable them to play some zone, which Smith said makes them bigger and a little harder to score against.
Offensively, Madison looks to get the ball down the floor quickly and then use its length by pounding the ball inside, but the Mohawks also have the ability to offset that with a good perimeter game.
“We have a lot more depth, so we can come at people different ways different nights and use some different lineups depending on who we are playing and how we match up,” Smith said.
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The versatility might not show up right away as Whiteman, Crim and McMonigle returned from football last week and got just three practices in before Saturday’s opener against Tri-County North at Hickory Gym in Knightstown, Ind., which was where the movie “Hoosiers” was filmed. Madison won 66-56 behind 25 points by Whisman and 14 by Morgan.
Whiteman is the team’s point guard and is dealing with a minor thumb injury suffered in the state semifinal, and Crim and McMonigle were “a little dinged up” after a long fall. McMonigle has to sit out the first half of the season due to transfer rules.
“It was a great thing for our community and school, but it put our basketball team a little bit behind,” Smith said. “(Friday was) just our third practice with the football players. But that’s OK. It’s a good problem to have.”
Smith hopes some of the football team’s success carries over into the basketball season as Madison seeks to contend in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division.
“Preble Shawnee won the division (sharing the title with Carlisle) last year and has four or five starters back, so they are probably the team to beat, but we we would like to be in that conversation,” Smith said. “At the end of February, we hope to still be contenders.”
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