FORTVILLE — Michael Ertel knows what it feels like to fall. Knocked down, not once, but twice since last March, the Mt. Vernon point guard refers to both instances as humbling.
But neither, the senior says, has fazed his drive or the team’s for that matter. If anything, their motivation has risen.
“That sectional loss last year, that was really devastating. Knowing we had the talent to do some special things, and seeing those (seniors) go, it’s been haunting me for a year now,” Ertel said. “I know I’m ready to get back out there. We all are. We want to go out there and redeem ourselves.”
Last season ended much like the two previous for the Mt. Vernon boys basketball team. For a third straight year, the Marauders were eliminated from the state tournament in their first sectional game. This time it was to New Castle, 85-76, a program they tied for first in the Hoosier Heritage Conference at 6-1 and lost to in the regular season 55-54.
Worst yet, their postseason disappointment was paired with the departure of two key senior starters in guard Miles Wayer (9.6 points per game) and forward Michael Thompson (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
“Those guys were right in the middle of everything we did the last three years, so it will be difficult without them,” said head coach Travis Daugherty, who is entering his fourth season at Mt. Vernon. “But what makes me optimistic is that the guys coming back understand what needs to be done. They work extremely hard, and they are willing to teach and help out the younger guys. I’m excited to see what we do because of their leadership.”
Ertel, a 6-foot-1 Louisiana-Monroe recruit, has already set an example.
An Indiana Junior All-Star last year, he averaged 15.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He shot 90 percent from the free-throw line (78 of 87) and buried 51 of 131 3-pointers at 39 percent.
Ertel is running toward the 1,000-point plateau with 826 points through three varsity seasons after scoring a career-best 363 points last year. His career average is 12.1 points per game, and he would become the third Marauder to surpass the milestone.
“No doubt, the impact he’s had on our program is obvious. There’s not another point guard in the state I would trade for him,” Daugherty said. “He’s extremely skilled, and his toughness is his best quality. He’s a relentless competitor.”
This offseason, Ertel had to rely on his resolve as his knee locked up during summer conditioning. Diagnosed with a right lateral meniscus tear, he underwent surgery to repair the injury in late August and spent 10 weeks working his way back.
“I’m better for it,” Ertel remarked on the setback. “I’m 100 percent now. I’m ready.”
Daugherty didn’t need much convincing about Ertel’s status once his potential Indiana All-Star was cleared to return last month.
“Anytime something like that happens, especially for a player, when you have to take a step back and you’re not allowed to play, I think it re-centers you on how much you love it,” Daugherty said. “I think that’s what Michael has been able to see, really enjoying the moment. When he got back, he came in full throttle.”
Fellow senior starters 6-6 Erick Shepherd and 6-5 James McCloud have followed Ertel’s lead. The tandem returns with an elevated focus along with a sharper basketball IQ, said Daugherty, who is expecting both to have breakout campaigns.
Shepherd averaged 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds last year and led the team by shooting 56 percent from the field. McCloud contributed 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds for the Marauders, which finished the 2015-16 season 18-5 overall.
“I think we’re going to see that next level from Shepherd, he and James both,” Daugherty said. “Their maturity and understanding of the game has increased, and when you have that level of skill and talent, you’re going to do a lot of good.”
Damari Gatewood, a 6-1 junior guard, joins the starting five along with 6-1 junior guard Logan Smith. Senior Alex Fouts, and sophomores Peyton Meadors, Jake Morris and Cade Gentry give the Marauders depth off the bench.
“The fun part is there are new opportunities for some of our younger, newer guys to contribute. It’s going to be a learning process for a lot of those guys, but they want to learn, want to improve and want to be good,” Daugherty said.
They’re also ready to correct past mistakes.
“I think we have a lot to prove this year. We didn’t accomplish near what we set out to do,” Ertel said. “I think we’re going to be the hunter, not the hunted. We still have a lot to achieve.”
2016-17 Projected Starting Five
6’1 Point Guard
15.8 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.0 rpg
13.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg
8.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg
1.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg
OFF THE BENCH: Kole Kerr, JR. (GUARD), Xavier White, JR. (GUARD), Tyler Bostic, JR. (GUARD), Blaine Croan, JR. (GUARD), Cade Gentry, SO. (GUARD), Alex Fouts, SR. (GUARD), Peyton Meadors, SO. (GUARD), Caleb Rush, JR. (CENTER), Jake Morris, SO. (FORWARD), Josh Coons, JR. (FORWARD).
40-28 in 4th year at school
158-113 in 13th year overall
Stan Daugherty, Lowell Thomas, Jake Hoffman, John Coons