Starting five returns off last year’s 10-win squad
It was a feel-good season for North Knox a year ago, improving its win total by seven over the previous season.
But with no seniors coming off the books from that squad and upperclass experience finally taking over for the Warriors, hopes are high that the school can enjoy its first winning season since 2014-15.
Second-year coach Daniel Crabtree saw the promise in the 10-14 campaign, especially on the defensive end when North Knox went from giving up 70 points per game to 55.
The Warriors may have seen their biggest gain in their 14th loss a year ago. Third-ranked Linton, which bombed North Knox in the regular season 89-44, couldn’t shake the Warriors in the sectional semifinal. North Knox trailed by four points with 11 seconds to go before succumbing, 65-58, but it showed everybody the improvement the team has made.
“I know when the draw came out and it was Linton, some kids were disappointed. We had drawn Linton the year before too,” Crabtree said. “We spent those two weeks before the sectional just to get them to believe. Our guys did believe and the score showed how close we are. The message after the game is that we want to build off that, to start this year like we ended last year. That has to be our mentality.”
They have the ammunition to make it work. Holtman Doades (17.3 points per game last season) had a breakout sophomore year. The 6-0 junior has all his starting teammates back, 6-0 seniors Reece Hammelman (8.3) and Isaiah Collins (6.0), 6-5 junior Ian Kixmiller (4.9) and 6-0 junior Rhett Sheren (4.8), along with 6-0 senior Brayden Thorne (5.2). All five of those players logged about the same amount of minutes, according to Crabtree, making it more a starting six.
Like Doades, it was the first extensive varsity time for many of them so that learning curve has already been negotiated.
“We went from a really young team to a year later now all of the sudden we’re an experienced team,” Crabtree said. “We don’t have a lot of size, but that could cause matchup problems for opponents too. We do have a lot of guys who can handle the ball, shoot from outside and help stretch the floor. Individually guys are playing with a lot more confidence in the early going and that should translate to being a more-confident team.
“The defense is coming along. We made a huge improvement last year and our half-court defense is an early emphasis. It’s looked good, but figuring out teams who have multiple bigs is going to be a challenge,” he said. “Being disciplined on the defensive end is where it starts. I know the school record is 50.6 for points per game defensively. I challenged our guys to better that this year.”
It all starts with Doades, whose explosive play led the team’s massive improvement.
“Holtman’s athleticism allows him to do things others can’t. We had to find ways to get him the ball in space to help him, and he was more efficient as the season went along,” Crabtree said. “We want him to have a score-first mentality. That makes him dangerous. Teams are going to want to take him away, but he’s seeing the court better as he gets older. We have a highlight reel of his passes too. He’s a smart player.”
Crabtree noted to find a second or third consistent scorer is important. Doades scored in double figures in all 24 games last season, but six other players were the second-leading scorer. While the coach said that may make his team harder to defend, he wanted more dependability on that end of the floor.
Kixmiller might have the biggest upside of the group. As the only starter with frontcourt size, the junior has a lot to do inside on both ends of the court.
“Ian’s looked really good and gives us more of that inside-outside presence we need,” Crabtree said. “He’s still thin, but he’s stronger, lifting a lot more weight than he did last year. We’d like to play through him. He’s a good passer and a good free throw shooter. We want to get him going, build that confidence.”
Hammelman was the team’s second-leading scorer, has the most experience on the team and is a dependable ball handler.
“Reece needs to be our leader. He’s our best communicator on the floor and our most versatile defender. He’s a strong, physical kid,” Crabtree said. “He was our point guard most of last year and will play some there this year, but we’re going to experiment with some others. We have four who can handle the ball.”
Hammelman is six feet tall, as are classmates Collins and Thorne, along with junior Sheren. That trio often have to defend bigger forwards, but it’s nothing new to them.
“Isaiah is a great shooter and has showed glimpses in practice of adding other pieces to his game,” Crabtree said. “Brayden is a great athlete, who is just a year and a half removed from having a fractured spine. He’s a good shooter who gets to the basket well. His movement, strength and confidence are all up. Rhett is our best defender, who is as unselfish as you can get. He’s a coach’s dream with all he brings to the table.”
The team also has 6-2 senior Gavan Carpenter and 5-11 junior Will Sloan in the playing rotation. Carpenter is Kixmiller’s backup and an important piece with his height and muscle inside. Sloan shined late last year, especially on the defensive end. If the team needs to go deeper, Crabtree said he wanted to get 5-7 sophomore Mason Lyons and 6-0 sophomore Dalton Thurston varsity experience.
The schedule hasn’t softened and the Warriors have just eight home games. Blue Chip Conference champion Loogootee and Class A heavyweight Barr-Reeve are league stalwarts. Linton, which should be ranked prominently in next week’s preseason poll, leads another hefty field in the sectional.
“Barr-Reeve might have its best team in school history and that’s saying something. Loogootee returns all of its main guys too,” Crabtree said. “Most on the outside would say Linton is the sectional favorite. I’m sure South Knox is going to be there. They’re so solid defensively. Eastern Greene is going to be much improved, returning four starters. (Bryan) Rippy is so big, a tough matchup for us.
“I’m hoping we have something to say about the sectional. We have everybody back and a lot of guys who are extremely competitive,” he said. “Our players proved to themselves they’re capable of being a good basketball team last year, and we’re going to make a jump this year.”
North Knox roster
No. |Name |Pos. |Ht. |Yr.
Coach: Daniel Crabtree
Assistants: Randy Hammelman, C.J. Hayes, Clint Roesler
Nov. 28|x-Linton|10 am
Nov. 28|x-Parke Heritage|3
Dec. 8|SOUTH KNOX|6
Dec. 12|EAST. GREENE|6
Dec. 29-30|Forest Park Inv.
Jan. 22|PIKE CENTRAL|6
Jan. 29|Washington Cath.|6
Feb. 4|Northeast Dubois|6
Feb. 12|North Daviess|6
Feb. 20|Wood Memorial|6:30
Home games in CAPS
All times p.m., unless noted