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Future is Bright for Panther, Royal Basketball Teams
For the first 19 minutes of the sectional basketball game against Shenandoah last week, Coach Chad Ballenger’s Knightstown Panthers played their best basketball of the season.
With 5:15 to play in the third quarter, freshman Zach Apollos launched a three-pointer that put the Panthers up 23-21. The team was in that position despite committing 10 first half turnovers.
Keep in mind who was playing in this game. The 1-20 Panthers were matched against the now 20-3 and 7th-ranked Raiders. Knightstown realistically didn’t stand a chance of winning the game.
Despite losing 21 games this season, the Panthers were a team that just never quit. That said, it’s not surprising that they held in as long as they did against the Raiders, who were a 35-point favorite according to the computerized team rating system found on the IHSAA web site. Shenandoah had five senior starters with 13 years of varsity experience between them.
Knightstown came into this season with one player having varsity experience. If this year’s senior class would have been comparable to last year’s, most of these kids would have been on the junior varsity roster.
The Panthers gave the Raiders all they wanted and more. In line with how the entire season unfolded, they suffered through an extended scoring drought that decided the game.
But with nothing to lose, they executed a game plan to near perfection and had the Raider players looking to their coach in frustration for 19 minutes.
It wasn’t what Knightstown did in the third quarter that turned the game in Shenandoah’s favor. It was what those five seniors on the Raider roster did that made the difference.
They made a couple of adjustments, closed down the back door passing lane, and behaved like a senior-laden team. They took control of the game the same way they have been doing since December, when they lost for the last time.
Despite losing, the Knightstown coaches and players did an outstanding job in this game, and in the process fired the warning shot that says these young players have done a little growing up this season after all.
No doubt, that will start paying dividends next season.
Next Year is Royals’ Year
How good will Eastern Hancock be next season? Probably every bit as good as the semi-state team from 2003, and possibly better.
They will graduate four seniors, but return six players that saw extensive minutes and were instrumental in the team’s turn-around this season. Leading the charge will be junior Caleb Kennedy, 6-5, who became the best big man in the conference this year. With a little more hard work, he will dominate the schedule next season.
He’ll be joined by juniors Jensen Maroska (6-2) and Eric Buenger (6-4). Both have had double digit scoring and rebounding outings for the Royals this season. Jordan Wilson and Justin Maxwell played key rolls off the bench, as did sophomore Jeff Cushing. That gives the Royals six key players returning next year.
How good will Kennedy be? I’m going to assume he maintains a hard work ethic over the summer and fall. If so, he’ll likely be one of the most dominating big men in Class 2A, a potential all-state candidate. In Eastern Hancock’s first five games, Kennedy averaged 14 points and seven rebounds, while the Royals went 0-5. Over the last 15 games, Kennedy averaged a double-double. He scored at an 18.5 clip, and grabbed 10.7 rebounds per game. The Royals went 9-6 over those last 15.
But even more impressive was Kennedy over the last five games, including two sectional battles against players just as tall and talented. In those last five games he averaged 23.4 points and 11.4 rebounds. Kennedy and his Royal teammates will be even better next year, and return the best talent of the teams in the Alexandria Regional field.
Brighter Panther Days
It’s hard to imagine not having brighter days after your team suffers through a 1-21 season. But there were several games the team should have won this past season, and they just couldn’t maintain focus for the full 32 minutes.
That’s to be expected with youth and inexperience, and that will all change next season.
Like Kennedy, freshman Zach Apollos has an opportunity to be a great basketball player. Other freshmen have cracked the starting lineup at Knightstown over the years, and some have had a pretty solid impact, just as Apollos did this season. Off the top of the Dome I’m reminded of Art Rose, Mark Lawrence, Randy Hall, Mike Wade, Aaron Brown and a few others who had an impact their freshman season. None of those guys had a greater impact than Apollos their freshman year, but they all did play with a more talented group of older kids.
Over the last five games Apollos averaged 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, with two double-doubles. He had a game-high of 23 points and 16 rebounds earlier in the season, and periodically showed signs of tremendous potential.
Knightstown will return three starters and three more kids who saw extensive playing time. Apollos will have juniors Kyle Buckley and Bryce Cole, and sophomores Brice Biehl and Kelton Lane joining him as players with extensive varsity experience.
But the Panthers have a tremendous wealth of other talent emerging from the sophomore and freshman classes, including players coming up from a winning junior varsity and a 14-5 freshman team.
Its possible someone from this year’s multi-talented eighth grade team could challenge for a varsity roster spot as a freshman next year, although the court is going to be very crowded.
And although the 1-21 season was painful to endure for many fans, I look at it as more of corrective surgery. A lot of things went wrong this season, but everyone got that first year of varsity play behind them and the future looks very bright.
(NOTE FROM SPORTS EDITOR PUBLISHED IN MARCH 14, 2007 ISSUE: In last week’s Chrome Dome column concerning the Eastern Hancock basketball team, junior Robbie Roland was inadvertently omitted from the list of players returning for next year’s team. Roland, a 5-10 junior, started several games last season and was a key player in the team’s success. The Banner apologizes for the omission and any confusion it may have caused.)
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