TERRE HAUTE —
Whether the Class of 2013 has the best group of boys high school basketball players in Terre Haute North’s history has yet to be proven.
The deepest-ever Patriot class, however? That seems to be a yes.
Coach Todd Woelfle’s team will have 10 seniors this winter as it tries to improve on a 20-7 record and a regional upset of the state’s second-ranked team a year ago. There were more juniors than that in the North program last year, and several former Patriots are seniors playing for other teams in the area.
“We have a lot of familiar names and faces,” Woelfle acknowledged recently, “but there will be some roles changing this winter. The sooner we adjust to those [new] responsibilities, the more successful we will be.”
This year’s seniors include seven of the top nine players for North a year ago, but that’s not completely good news. The two who graduated, Mark O’Leary and Ross Sponsler (now playing regular college minutes at Loyola of Chicago and Wabash, respectively) are the reason those new roles are important.
“We’ll miss two excellent leaders, on and off the court, who were also very good basketball players,” Woelfle said. “We’re looking for guys who can share those responsibilities.”
O’Leary and Sponsler combined for about 31 points per game a year ago as North’s top two scorers. The points may be easier to replace than the intangibles, however. “Best leaders we’ve ever had,” is a phrase Woelfle has repeated often.
Some of the points should come from 6-foot-5 Calvin Blank, the third of last year’s double-figure scorers and a four-year regular. He’ll get plenty of touches, the coach promised.
The other returning starters were more like specialists last year: 6-5 Austin Lewis was the defensive stopper (and a key to that regional win over Pendleton Heights) and 5-10 Nate Jahn was the non-shooting point guard (who stepped up offensively to help win that same game in Hinkle Fieldhouse last March). Woelfle expects a bigger, stronger Lewis to be much more of an offensive threat this season, and Jahn could fill in not only more points but some of the leadership void.
Completing last year’s eight-player rotation were 6-2 Steven Davis, a long-range threat; 5-11 Casey Vickers, another point guard; and massive 6-2 A.J. Grady, last year’s backup post.
Less playing time a year ago went to the ninth man, 6-0 Charles Dillahunt, but he’s an athletic option at a couple of spots. The team’s wild card this season is talented 6-5 Patrick Hart, a junior varsity player last year along with 6-2 shooter Evan Low and 6-2 energy specialist Chris Schenck. Those 10 seniors won’t leave much playing time for 6-2 junior Chris Barrett, 6-1 junior Mitchell Dennany, 6-4 sophomore Charie Aimone and 5-9 sophomore C.J. Brown.
“We can play a number of ways,” Woelfle pointed out, with Davis and Vickers joining the returning starters in a quick lineup or Grady and Hart coming in for a big lineup that moves Lewis to the perimeter.
“These kids know what it takes to win, and they know how to win,” the coach pointed out.
And the leadership?
“Hopefully the younger guys learned from [O’Leary and Sponsler last year],” Woelfle said, “and can carry on that tradition.”