Valley boys basketball preview: Slowed by virus, young Vikings to rely on Perkins, sophomores
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
If it seems like it’s awfully late for the Tippecanoe Valley boys basketball team to not have played a game yet, it’s because it is.
Valley had games against Warsaw and Oregon-Davis pushed back and will open its season tonight against Argos. It’s the first time in at least 25 years Valley hasn’t played a game in November.
Contact tracing and quarantining related to the coronavirus have prevented the full squad from being on hand at practice. In fact, Valley coach Chad Patrick said he didn’t have as many as 10 players at a practice until last Tuesday.
“Health-wise, we have two freshmen hurt, but other than that, we’re healthy, but we haven’t had many practices with very many kids there,” Patrick said. “We’ve had anywhere from 10 to 18 kids quarantined with tracing for the past two weeks. … We get more and more back every day this week, and by the Argos game, I think we’ll only have one kid without enough practices to play that night.”
Valley graduated Tanner Trippiedi and Bryce Fisher from last year’s team, and they could be as young, if not younger, this year.
The only senior is Chase Miller, and the leading returning scorer is 5-10 sophomore guard Paul Leasure, who scored more points in his freshman season than all-time school record holder Trey Eaton did in his.
Look for Leasure and fellow sophomore Brendyn Stump to handle ballhandling duties with Trippiedi gone.
“He’s going to have to score for us,” Patrick said of Leasure. “He’s gotten a lot better, a lot stronger. He’s probably gained a step or two quickness-wise. And he plays all the time, and he shoots all the time. He’s a gym rat, but he’s going to have to handle the ball some and score for us as well.”
Stump’s JV days are likely over after leading that team in scoring last year.
“Brendyn Stump had a great year at the end of the year in JV,” Patrick said. “He averaged 20-plus a game the last five games and only played three quarters (of) JV. He had an injury in the offseason but has healed from that and should be ready to go. He’s going to have to help Paul handle the ball, and he’s going to have to score as well.”
If Leasure and Stump are Mr. Outside, then Dawson Perkins might be Mr. Inside. Perkins, a 6-7 junior, is returning at center who specialized in dunking and defense as a sophomore.
“He’s improved immensely,” Patrick said. “He’s still got a long ways to go. This will be the third year he’s played organized basketball. … I think people will see huge improvements in him. He’s developed a little bit of an outside game. He can take the ball to the basket off the dribble. He’s actually hitting 3s now. He’s improved a bunch, and his presence around the rim is really good right now.”
In addition to Perkins, Valley might have more frontcourt depth than guard depth with Miller; juniors D.J. Estep, Rex Kirchenstien and Braden Shepherd; and sophomore Nolan Cumberland all coming back after receiving extensive varsity minutes last year.
Cumberland, whose “gym rat” work ethic ranks high like Leasure’s and who now stands 6-3, could be a contender for a starting spot.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger, and he’s probably grown an inch or two,” Patrick said. “He’s 6-3 now, and he’s put on some weight. … He’s going to have to score for us.”
Shepherd suffered a shoulder injury in a football game against Culver Academy in August, ending his season in that sport. Patrick said he is doing “really well” now.
“He’s recovered from that football injury and doing well,” Patrick said. “At times you can see him grimace, or it might bother him a little, but he’s doing really well, playing really hard and has stepped up to become the leader of this team, I think.”
Estep, a starting offensive lineman on the football team, has grown to 6-3 and can shoot the 3 but also defend in the interior.
“He’s actually slimmed down and is actually a better athlete this year than he was last year,” Patrick said. “He’s been one of the few kids that I haven’t lost at all during this contact tracing craziness, and he’s done really well. He’s still trying to get his shot back, but he’s definitely going to be one of the top seven and have to give us a lot of minutes. We think it will be tough for some teams to handle him and Dawson both inside in the game at the same time.”
Kirchenstien is “more relaxed” on the floor as a junior than his sophomore year, according to Patrick.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger,” Patrick said. “He’s obviously a great athlete, and he just seems as a junior to have a lot more confidence, and I look for big things from Rex this year.”
Valley was 6-7 and riding a four-game winning streak after a win over Rochester in January. They then went 3-7 over their final 10 games to finish 9-14, including a loss to Lakeland in the sectional quarterfinals in which they did not score in the fourth quarter.
Holding up to the physical grind of the season could be a factor this season.
“We’ve hit the weights hard even though we had to take a couple months off there in March, April and May,” Patrick said. “But a lot of these kids lift on their own and do stuff. So we’ve gotten a lot stronger. We have a great weight program with the Vikings Strong program and our new Viking Strong leader is Aaron Lipinski. He’s amazing. Kids love him. We’re getting a lot stronger.
“A few games last year, we lost because we weren’t as physical as the other teams, but we were within five to 10 points in most games, even the ones we lost. Hopefully, that will turn around, and we can be on the winning side of most of those games.”
Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Patrick, Nick Kindig, B.J. Walls and Brandon Webster will return to the coaching staff. Due to demands with his day job, Trey Eaton will not be back, though Chad Patrick said he will help as a “volunteer coach.”
Valley travels to Peru for their conference opener on Dec. 15. Three days later, they host Whitko.
Valley plays two sectional rivals during the regular season, and they play them in the final two weeks of the season. They travel to NorthWood Feb. 16 and host Wawasee Feb. 26. The sectional is March 2-6 at West Noble.