AKRON – Putting the ball in the basket should not be a problem for the Tippecanoe Valley boys basketball team this season.
It’s a couple of other things that will determine just how successful the talented Vikings will be this campaign, according to coach Bill Patrick.
“The big question is can we guard people,” said Patrick, who enters his 15th season at Valley and 44th overall on the sidelines. “We had trouble last year with that because we thought we could just outscore people.
“Defense and rebounding. It’s going to depend on can we do those things this season. So far, I’m not sure we’re better this year than last.
“We should be a good shooting team. Nick (Kindig) is one of the better shooters in the state. I think we’ll be a better team than last year, but we may not win as many games. We have to play both Plymouth and Triton on the road this season and those are two very good teams who we beat at home last year.”
The Vikings finished 16-5 overall and 6-1 in the Three Rivers Conference a year ago to tie Northfield atop the league standings. Valley graduated two seniors, including just one starter, and returns a strong mix of veterans.
“I think we will be a little more athletic and we have more size this year than in the past,” Patrick said. “I liked our ball movement in our scrimmage (versus Elkhart Memorial), but I do have a concern about shooting too many threes. Good teams have to be able to score inside too.”
The 1-2 punch of guard Nick Kindig and forward Tanner Andrews return to lead the way for Valley. Senior sharpshooter Kindig poured in 419 points last season, while Andrews, an athletic 6-3 junior, scored 309.
“Nick is hard to stop,” said Patrick of his 5-11 backcourt ace. “He’s not only a great shooter, but a great passer too. “Tanner is an athlete. He missed a couple of practices due to the concussion he had during football season, but he seems to be okay.
“A big key for us this year is that others will have to score too.”
The Vikings, who open the season at Warsaw Wednesday night, are slated to go with a starting lineup of Kindig, Andrews, 6-0 junior guard Robby Groom, 5-10 senior Jacob Ritchey and 6-4 junior Logan Britton. Sophomore Alex Thacker, a 5-11 guard, is expected to be the sixth man.
“Robby has experience running our offense as our returning starter at point guard,” noted Patrick. “Alex (Thacker) is a good shooter too. He and Chainey Zolman (a 6-5 sophomore) will play a lot for us.”
Valley does have a couple of injury-related concerns right now. Ritchey recently had an MRI on his shoulder he injured during football season and Zolman has been slowed by a sprained ankle.
“Jacob is supposed to find out Monday if he needs surgery, but I expect him to be okay. He’s been practicing and if he gets the okay on Monday, he will start on Wednesday for us.”
The Vikings roster also features 6-3 junior Derrick Cunningham, 6-1 junior Ben Shriver, 6-4 junior Chandler O’Connor, 5-11 sophomore Jarred Littlejohn and 6-2 sophomore Aaron Hoffman.
Patrick, who is 215-94 at Valley, expects the TRC to be competitive this season.
“I think overall the TRC is going to be a little stronger this year,” Patrick said. “I think most of the teams in our conference will be better this year.”
Patrick is quickly approaching another milestone in his illustrious coaching career, which included 24 seasons at Whitko High School. He needs just seven more wins to reach 700 as he currently sports a 693-274 overall record in 43 seasons. He is fifth all-time in wins among Indiana boys basketball coaches and trails only Pat Rady at Cloverdale (714) among active coaches. Jack Butcher holds the boys basketball coaching standard with 806 wins.
The Vikings, who jumped from seven wins two years ago to 16 last season, will open at Warsaw Wednesday and then host Argos (Nov. 27) and Knox (Nov. 30). Valley hosts Whitko Dec. 14 in its TRC opener.
Valley competes in a strong Class 3-A sectional at Wawasee at season’s end. That six-team field includes the Vikings, along with Wawasee, NorthWood, Lakeland, Fairfield and West Noble. The Vikings lost 40-35 to eventual sectional champion NorthWood in a first-round tourney game last season.
“I think this is a team that could do something in the tournament,” said Patrick looking long term at the upcoming season. “But, we are in a tough sectional.”