By Paul Gable/For The Daily Reporter
NEW PALESTINE — While Trent Whitaker admits he feels more comfortable going into his second season as head coach at New Palestine, he is also realistic and knows this season will be a “work in progress.”
“Overall, as a team, we lack game experience, but the roster is filled with talented basketball players that can play the game,” Whitaker said. “It is going to be a work in progress for a while as we look to gel as a team and see what each player brings to the floor. We will have to trust and believe in one another. There are going to be mistakes made, but they need to be aggressive attacking mistakes.”
A season ago, injuries plagued the Dragons as they finished with a 6-17 mark. Of the 23 games played, New Palestine lost eight by fewer than 10 points.
“Yes, we had our share of injuries last year, but those are things out of our control. We just have to focus on the things we can control, which is our effort and attitude. And so far, this team has had great effort and attitudes,” Whitaker said.
The Dragons will feature a mix of old and new faces this year, but Whitaker notes someone will have to step in and fill the void left by Cody Long’s graduation.
“Obviously, if we needed a bucket last year, we called Cody Long’s number. We will have to see who is going to step up and be that guy this year,” he said.
Leading the way will be senior Jalen Qualkinbush and sophomore Dylan Romine. Qualkinbush averaged just over seven points and two boards a game last year, while Romine averaged just over two points a contest and was an 83 percent free-throw shooter.
“We will look to Jalen for leadership this year as a senior. He returns with the most experience on the team and will be looked upon to score. He has improved his range this offseason and has become stronger. Jalen will be able to play inside or out for us this year,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker said Romine is a “hard-nosed kid that competes at everything.”
“He got some good playing experience at the varsity level last year, so he will look to start from Game 1 and have the confidence to know he can play at this level,” the coach said. “He is earning the trust of his teammates to make plays for us by showing he can do it in practice. Dylan is very capable of knocking down the three.”
One player the Dragons were expecting to see on the hardwood was junior Gavin Hausz, who averaged 7.7 points per game and hit 39 3-pointers last year.
“Gavin had a great summer scoring the basketball for us. Last year, he settled for the 3-pointer and if he did go to the rim, he was hoping to finish. This summer, he shot the ball really well and when he went to the rim, he would look for contact and finish,” Whitaker said.
However, an ACL injury and surgery has put Hausz on the bench for the foreseeable future as he continues to rehab back to full strength.
“I didn’t expect to see him until late in the season, if at all, but he is making great strides and could be back full time for the tournament at New Year’s,” Whitaker said.
New Palestine will also look to Maximus Gizzi, Harrison VanRhoon and Matthew True.
“We will be counting on Maximus, a freshman, to be a floor general this year. The kid is a winner and makes players around him better,” Whitaker said. “Harrison is an athlete that is skilled offensively and has the potential to make things difficult for opponents on the defensive end of the floor. Matthew will help in the backcourt and can put pressure on the defense as he can shoot and get to the rim.”
Also giving the Dragons some quality minutes on the inside will be Graham Biggs, Samuel Voelz and Austin Keele, while Connor Dobbins and James Little will help with their perimeter shooting.
Will it be enough for the Dragons to contend for a HHC title?
“The HHC has some great basketball teams and coaches. We are looking to compete each night, but we know there aren’t any easy games on our schedule, especially in conference play. Our goal is to get better each week and be ready to compete for a sectional championship,” Whitaker said.
2016-17 Projected Starting Five
7.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg
4.2 ppg, 1.3 rpg
2.0 ppg, 1.0 apg
OFF THE BENCH: James Little (JR.), Conner Dobbins (JR.), Graham Biggs (SR.), Samuel Voelz (SR.), Austin Keele (SO.), Gavin Hausz (JR.)
6-17 in 2nd year at school