Winamac boys basketball preview: Graduation, pandemic make season forecast unclear
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
When the 2019-20 season ended, one might have wondered about the Winamac boys basketball team what they were going to look like without any Larkins on the team.
If there wasn’t mystery before, there is definitely mystery now.
The Warriors are ready to start the season with a home game against Plymouth Tuesday. The start comes 29 days after practice began and 25 days after football season ended with a loss to Lafayette Central Catholic in a Class 1A regional.
And not only do they not have 2019 grad Calvin Larkin, who scored 1,211 career points, and 2020 grad Will Larkin, who scored 1,188 points, but their preseason practice was marred by a coronavirus-related quarantine that put a halt to practice for more than a week.
In terms of the calendar, it’s their latest start to a season since they began the 2013-14 season on Dec. 10 after the football team made a run to semistate.
The team resumed practice Dec. 1, and coach Alan Huggler said “eight or nine” players were unavailable for that practice.
“We haven’t practiced in a week and a half,” Huggler said on Dec. 1. “The football guys I had for four days, and due to contact tracing, we had to cancel practices. That’s where we’re at.”
Huggler said conditioning is a particular concern.
“We definitely are going to work hard at our conditioning,” Huggler said. “We want to be a team that can force the tempo if we want to. We’d like to be able to apply some defensive pressure. So we do have to condition ourselves accordingly.”
A late start was already likely after the football team’s sectional title. Players like Russell Compton, Trent Fox, Logan Schultz, Beau Brandt, Jaxon Roudebush and Jaden Terry were already going to get off to a late start.
Football success is not a bad thing, according to Huggler.
“The football team had some great success, and I believe success can carry over into other sports, or at least it can help with the right attitude and mindset,” Huggler said. “So hopefully that helps us going forward.”
The Plymouth game starts a stretch of five games in 11 days to start the season. Three of the games – LaVille, Culver and Triton – are conference games.
“We may have to simplify things just a little bit here to start the season, maybe more so than we wanted to, just because we’ve got big games at the beginning of the season without a whole lot of practice,” Huggler said. “But again, we’ve got guys that will compete and show up everyday and play hard. No matter who we’re playing or no matter how many games we have in a short amount of time, I think we’ll have a great effort. We may not be where we want to be, especially offensively, early in the year. It’s going to take some time to build some more chemistry, but we’re just hoping to get on the floor soon. We’re just looking forward to the opportunity.”
Compton is the leading returning scorer, and Huggler said Compton was a “big part” of what the team did last year both offensively and defensively.
“I expect him to have the ball in his hands a lot,” Huggler said.
Ryan Gregor, who received a majority of his time on the JV last year, could be moving up to the varsity and could help with ballhandling on offense and pressuring the opposing ballhandler on defense.
“In the few practices we've had so far, he’s shown that his quickness can be an asset for us this year,” Huggler said.
The second leading returning scorer is Carson Bennett, a 6-0 senior wing.
“Carson is a scrappy player,” Huggler said. “He’s got a motor that doesn’t stop. Defensively, we expect him to create some havoc. Offensively, he loves to drive and get to the rim, and he also likes to put up some 3s every now and then. I’m trying to convince Carson to develop his mid-range game a little bit. I think he’s a guy that can be scrappy, get rebounds, attack the basket and … be a guy that hopefully play a little inside or out.”
Huggler describes Fox as a “consistent leader” and “solid defensive player.”
Matt Swartzell is another senior to whom Huggler said his teammates look up.
The key to the team’s success could be how much the team’s juniors adapt to greater varsity roles. In addition to Compton and Gregor, other juniors include Brandt, Schultz, Terry and Alex Stark.
“Beau Brandt is one that comes to mind right away,” Huggler said. “He’s a very versatile player, a hard-nosed kid. He’s another one that’s going to play hard and aggressive at both ends.”
The 6-5 Schultz is the team’s tallest player and has been working on his post moves, according to Huggler. Roudebush will also help in the post.
“He’ll do whatever he can to help the team,” Huggler said of Roudebush.
Sophomore Evan Eber and freshmen Chase Bentle and John Malchow will also compete for varsity minutes.
Winamac will play in a tournament Dec. 29-30. They will play two games at Boone Grove on Dec. 29 and one game at Hebron on Dec. 30. Their first game on Dec. 29 will be against Marquette Catholic, and their second game will be against Hammond Science and Tech or Boone Grove. They will play one of the following on Dec. 30: Tri-County, Hebron, South Bend Career Academy or River Forest.
Winamac’s first two conference games are at home against LaVille Friday and Culver Dec. 15.
Winamac’s first game against a sectional opponent is a home game against defending sectional champion Rochester on Jan. 5. Winamac also has games against Delphi (Jan. 23, home), Lewis Cass (Feb. 4, road) and Rensselaer (Feb. 26, road). They do not play North Newton during the regular season.
In addition to the Plymouth game, Winamac will also host Logansport on Feb. 9. Those are their two games against Class 4A squads.
Winamac’s most recent conference title came in 2019. Their most recent sectional crown came in 2015.