SYRACUSE — The Wawasee boys basketball team’s destiny in 2018-19 is likely going to be tied with how well the Warriors play on the defensive end.
After losing four of its top five scorers to graduation from a team that already struggled to put the ball in the hole on occasions last season, Wawasee will need time to develop on the offensive side of the ball this year. Defense is going to have to be a constant if the Warriors want to stay in games.
“I think it’s going to have to be (a strength) for us to be competitive. Really the big kind of sales pitch early on here is that we’re going to progress offensively throughout the course of the season, but our defense needs to be kind of a solid rock for us game in and game out, just to kind of keep the scores reasonably close and give us a chance where we’re able to win,” explained head coach Jon Everingham.
Aaron Evans returns for a senior season after putting up 112 points as the team’s fourth leading scorer during his junior season, and Bennett Hoffert is also back for his final go-round with the Warriors. Austin Miller is back for a junior campaign after chipping in 71 points last winter, but after that Wawasee’s experience gets pretty thin. Juniors Marshal Miller and Ethan Hardy both return from last year’s varsity lineup, while junior Michael Hammer and sophomore point guard Cameron Slabaugh both bump up from the JV squad. Also returning with the team is senior Josh Slabaugh, who played with the team as a sophomore but stepped away from the school entirely for religious reasons last year.
“Aaron and Ben have played a lot of varsity basketball. Austin Miller played a little bit himself there, but beyond that we’ve got basically no varsity experience after two or three guys,” said Everingham. “Once we get rolling here, and we get about 10 games in, that’s no longer going to be an excuse, so you look at other things that potentially you might be a little concerned with, which would be our depth — when sickness and injury strike that we’re able to fill in the holes with different guys.”
It’s a group that, while it doesn’t boast a ton of varsity experience or depth, seems to have good chemistry. It’s also a group that knows how to compete, says Everingham.
“I think some of the intangibles will be our strength,” said the third-year skipper. “Sometimes the intangibles are a little harder to measure. I think these guys get along very, very well on and off the floor. They’re just an extremely hard-working bunch, and they’re very competitive. They have shown over the course of last summer and then the preseason this year that they’re really going to get out there and compete.”
While the Warriors won just six games last season, they were pretty competitive in each of their 17 losses. A full six of those L’s were by three possessions or less, including a pair of overtime losses to Whitko and Concord. Of course Everingham would love to see some of those outcomes go the other direction, but he cautions it may take some time with such a young group.
“We’ve kind of laid the foundation the last couple years that nobody is really going to come in and just roll over us, that we’re a very competitive basketball program, and we’re obviously looking for this group to kind of take us to the next level,” he said.
“To get over the hump, it takes time. We’re going to be really patient. We’ve got a really inexperienced group so there’s no real timetable. We’re going to be really patient but come January we hope to be a really solid basketball team.”
Wawasee opens it’s schedule Nov. 20 at home opposite Fairfield and will play four of its first six games at the Hardwood Teepee, including the team’s Northern Lakes Conference opener with Warsaw Dec. 14.
“Overall we’re very excited about this particular group. Like I said, I think the chemistry and the intangibles makes things very, very fun for me as a coach. I’m really looking forward to coaching these guys,” Everingham said.