The Panthers caught a tough break when 5-7 freshman Keith Nies broke his collarbone in a regional football game against Winamac. Cowley hopes to have him back by the end of December.
Other key contributors look to be 5-7 sophomore Chad Clifford, 6-2 sophomore Zach Mason and 6-1 junior Deven Smith.
Two more freshmen could see varsity time later in the season in 5-7 Connor Kindley and 6-1 Cohen Nies.
Big Parker Englert, the 6-3 starting center on the football team, is also in the mix.
“We’ve got some decent size for being pretty young,” Cowley said. “I like the mentality that the football players bring and the whole team brings.
“I was on a good football team when I was in high school at Winamac. I always believe that carries over from the fall into basketball. I was excited to see how much improvement our young football team made from the beginning of the season, and they had a heartbreaking loss to Winamac in regional play. When they lost, they said, ‘Hey, Coach, when do you want us there.’ They had to get five practices in to be able to make the scrimmage so I told them that they needed to be here that Monday. They were all here and ready to go. They’re great kids and it’s really fun to coach them.”
The Panthers travel to Lafayette Jeff on Wednesday to start the season.
“Jeff is always tough every year,” Cowley said. “They graduated their best player from last year, No. 24 [Lucas Wallace], who was a pretty good player. We scrimmaged them this summer. They’ve got a few shooters and they’re really quick. We’ll have our hands full to keep them out of the paint and handle their fullcourt pressure. If we can handle the fullcourt pressure and handle the pace, I’d like to think we have a shot. We need to get it to a pace of the game that fits our style.”
The sectional this year is at Caston. The Comets, Panthers and North White look to be top contenders, with Winamac also in that mix in Midwest Conference play.
“Without being overconfident, we expect to be a contender at the sectional at Caston,” Cowley said. “We’ll prepare for a loud gym there. We expect to be in the mix of things at the end of the year.”