BOURBON — If Triton can weather a whopper of a road calendar in November and December, look out.
A tremendous non-conference schedule for the Trojan boys basketball team, which includes three road trips to open the slate, should give head coach Jason Groves a really good impression of what direction his experienced club will take.
The opener at Oregon-Davis has been lopsided in Triton’s favor, winning the past five games by nearly 50 points per game, but trips to Plymouth and NorthWood will test its mettle. Plymouth comes off a 16-win season and features 6’9″ beast Mack Mercer while the Panthers made the 3A regional finals last winter. If matters could get worse on the early road schedule, Triton has to travel to Mishawaka Marian on Dec. 8 and face one of the premier players in the country, Demetrius Jackson, who is headed to Notre Dame next season.
“I like it, those teams are going to expose your weaknesses,” Groves said of his brutal opening schedule. “Those teams are going to have big, strong, physical skilled kids. They are going to expose weaknesses. They are going to give us a good look at what we need to do to get better.
“Last year, we were young and Plymouth exposed us at home. We came out the next time and played better against NorthWood.”
Triton does get a home treat, if one can be classified as such, when it hosts Warsaw on Dec. 18 in what could be a grudge match revisited from a bitter contest won by the Tigers last December.
All scheduling aside, if Triton wants to maintain itself as a perennial state contender at the 1A level, it is certainly set up returning four of its five starters from last season’s regional final team.
All eyes will be on Clay Yeo in what could be an All-State season for the senior guard/forward. Groves eluded Yeo could run a little point guard to begin the year as the Trojans develop its offense. Even more for defenses to contend with as Yeo scored 26 points per game, but did just about everything effectively as he had eight rebounds per game, was second on the team in assists (57) and led the club in steals (55) and blocked shots (27) while hitting 27 threes.
“I think we are going to build things around Clay,” Groves said. “Last year, we didn’t shoot well from outside, which allowed teams to pack in and take (Yeo) away. We didn’t have the outside option to give Clay some freedom. This year, I think we do. This year, I think we have four, maybe five guys, that can spread the floor out a little bit.”
What could be the biggest factor for Triton is how to relieve the pressure teams will put on defending Yeo. Stepping into that role will be Tanner Shepherd. The junior forward returns just under 11 points per game and led the Trojans in both made (30) and attempted (100) three-point shots while collecting a hefty 48 steals last season.
Joining Shepherd as returners for the Trojans include seniors Drew Mosson (2 ppg, 1 rpg), Bryson Mosier (2 ppg, 1 rpg) and Seth Glingle (4 ppg, 4 rpg) as well as junior Cody Shively (4 ppg, 4 rpg). Juniors Seth Flenar, Darren Harrell, Dillon Meadway and Bryce Wanemacher also bring with them experience off the bench.
Groves also expects sophomores Joey Corder and Skyler Reichart to move up from JV to eventually aid the lineup.
Triton is seeking its fourth consecutive Northern State Conference title, but have shared two of the past three titles, LaVille matching Triton’s 6-1 mark last year. Groves is confident his non-conference slate will help with the NSC grid, which will then build for what he feels will be a loaded 1A Sectional No. 51. Triton is 114-18 in its past five seasons with five sectional titles, three state championship appearances and one state title in 2008.
Groves stated the play around Yeo will be big, but how his bench responds will be just as important. “The kids who don’t have experience from last year, how fast do they come along and step up. We know that we are going to get from our four returning starters, plus Mosier. But after that from our bench, what are we going to get? We need some offense and obviously, the kids know they have to play defense if they want to play. It’s just a matter of who steps up and steps us quickly.”