It’s another year and another late start for the Pioneer boys basketball team due to the success of its football team.
The Panthers will also have to replace their top two scorers from last year’s team after the graduation of all-time leading scorer Trey Waddups, who averaged 22.2 ppg last year and scored 1,213 career points, and with second leading scorer Jakob Wireman (13.8 ppg) moving back to Danville.
The Panthers do return a lot of players with varsity experience from last year’s 12-11 team.
“A lot of these young guys played under Trey and learned a lot from him and he left a good impact on us,” said Pioneer coach Austin Cowley, who is entering his sixth year at the helm in Royal Center. “It’s kind of handing it over to this next group of six seniors that are going to lead the way for this season.”
Calahan Kindley, a 5-11 senior, was a third-team All-Loganland selection a year ago when he averaged 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
Other returning seniors include 6-3 Dustin Sparks and Gavin James from the football team and starting point guard Damon McGuire (4 ppg, 3 apg), sharp shooter Haden Krintz (5 ppg, 36 percent from 3) and role player Mason Hayden.
Juniors this year include 6-3 Jacob Brown (4 ppg), Gage Cripe and Logan Nusbaum. Sophomores include Addai Lewellen, Ezra Lewellen and 6-4 Hunter Klepinger.
Cowley is looking for the underclassmen to complement the seniors well.
“Gage Cripe is a kid that’s been a gym rat all summer long, all fall long. Logan Nusbaum and Jacob Brown had great sophomore years last year on JV and varsity. We’re pretty excited about them,” Cowley said.
The Panthers return some good outside shooters and like last year they’ll be undersized against a lot of their opponents, so they might apply fullcourt pressure quite often.
“We really liked the pace we were able to play with last year,” Cowley said. “So finally with a full team at full strength, we’re able to finally get into the pressing at practice. I think we’re going to have to use it. Maybe not all zone defense this year, mix it up man, zone this year, I think we can get back out and play man-to-man which should help with our rebounding. That should lead to our offense. Hopefully the press can be a weapon we can use against good teams.”
With the late start to the season, the Panthers’ first game this year will be an HNAC game, at home Friday night against Triton.
“It’d be nice to have a warmup game in there here and there,” Cowley said. “I know coach [John] Bingaman is working hard to maybe get that schedule changed for us. But it is what it is and of course the goal is to win conference every year. The last two or three times we’ve played them it’s come down to one possession. We just really want to be mentally prepared, mentally tough to be able to take them on.”
Triton is 2-2 to start the season with wins over Oregon-Davis and South Bend Career Academy and losses to Plymouth and NorthWood.
“They’ve really been battle-tested, playing Plymouth and NorthWood and Oregon-Davis. It’s not ideal the way you do it but it is what it is, you can’t change it so you just do your best,” Cowley said.
The Panthers will hope to start strong in HNAC play on Friday and by the end of the season they hope to be a contender in what could be a wide open Sectional 50 field.
Saturday at North Miami
Dec. 14 at LaVille
Dec. 15 Argos
Dec. 18 Lewis Cass +
Dec. 22 TBA +
Dec. 29 Rochester
Jan. 4 at Frontier
Jan. 5 Faith Christian
Jan. 8 at Eastern
Jan. 11 Lewis Cass
Jan. 12 at Carroll
Jan. 18 at West Central
Jan. 25 Caston
Jan. 26 at Rossville
Jan. 31 North Judson
Feb. 5 at Knox
Feb. 8 Culver
Feb. 9 at Maconaquah
Feb. 15 at Winamac
Feb. 16 at North White
Feb. 22 at Tri-County
+ Cass County Invite at Logan