For the complete 2012-13 Hancock County Girls Basketball Preview, which includes schedules, predictions, stat leaders, polls and more, pick up a copy of Thursday's Daily Reporter. The paper is available at the Daily Reporter office, 22 W. New Road, Greenfield.
GREENFIELD — When a coach proclaims, “I wouldn’t want to play us,” whilst referencing his team that is without its top two players from last season — two individuals that combined to score 50 percent of the team’s points, grab 39 percent of its rebounds and account for 38 percent of its assists — skepticism would be a natural reaction.
But that’s the narrative Greenfield-Central coach Doug Laker presents following the differing departures of LaRae Cruz (graduation) and Katie Peters (Indiana soccer preparation).
“We’re going to play fast. We’re going to get up and down the floor more,” said the fifth-year coach, his excitement palpable.
If the former Rushville player and coach is overly concerned, he’s not showing it.
“We’re going to be OK. We’re going to be better than OK,” Laker added, his tone turning more serious. “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
The statistics would seem to back any Cougar doubters.
Cruz led Hancock County in scoring in her last two seasons, and averaged 18.4 points per game in 2011-12. Moreover, the five-foot-six guard was the county’s most accomplished pickpocket last year; her 3.9 steals per game were tops in the area. Cruz was also G-C’s leader in free-throw (77 percent) and three-point shooting (36 percent) as well as notching nearly five rebounds and exactly two assists a night.
She finished fifth all-time at G-C in scoring (967 points) and assists (261) while winning 50 games as a four-year varsity player.
“For a 5-6 girl who could hardly jump over a piece of paper and wasn’t very athletic … you put up those kinds of stats, that’s very impressive,” Laker said of Cruz, who is now a student at Indiana. “She had a great career and hopefully she set a tone for the rest of our kids. You don’t have to be the most physically talented person, but if you go out and play hard and do things the right way, you can have a pretty successful career.”
Peters was one of the area’s most versatile players a year ago, finishing in the county top 10 in six categories (with per-game totals): points (9.0), rebounds (6.5, led team), assists (2.4), steals (2.1), field-goal shooting (40 percent) and free-throw shooting (68 percent).
Yet, Laker lamented the exodus of Peters’ leadership more than her basketball talents.
“She’s a great player, but the person she is … you’re a better person when you’re around Katie. That’s the biggest intangible we lose,” he offered. “Katie is one of those special, special human beings. But we’re going to adjust.”
Sara Jones, one of the team’s two seniors, intends on expanding both her on-court and off-court talents to help fill the void left by Peters.
“That was a big change for all of us. We’re going to learn as we go and figure out how we’re going to fill that spot,” said Jones, the county’s leader in field-goal shooting (56 percent) last season. Katie was a big part of the team.”
The Cougars are overhauling their philosophies on both sides of the ball, exchanging plodding for pace on offense and full-court pressure for half-court protection on defense.
Offensively, more will be expected of Jones (8.6 ppg in 2011-12), junior Emily Koers (4.5 ppg) as well as sophomores Shelby Oldham (4.0 ppg) and Regan Lewis (3.2 ppg). G-C’s goal is for the contributors increase their averages by two to three points per game.
In particular, Laker possesses high expectations for Oldham, who he said was “kind of thrown to the wolves” last year as a freshman.
“I’ve got the best point guard around. I think Shelby Oldham is an unbelievable point guard,” said Laker of Oldham, who led the team with three assists per game a year ago. “I think she could be — she has to determine this, obviously — but I think she could be the best point guard in G-C history. That’s saying something.”
Oldham revamped her shooting stroke, which was occasionally two-handed last season, and has added strength to allow her to shoot off the dribble.
Lewis and sophomore Brooke Bell — the point guard of JV team last season — will bear ball-handling responsibility too, as Greenfield-Central plans to emphasize a dribble-drive, screen-based offense that Laker hopes will make his team difficult to scout.
“We’ve got five or six girls that can average eight to 10 points per game,” he said. “To me, that’s a harder team to guard than having just one person score.”
If there’s one worry Laker retains, it’s rebounding. The Cougars want to apply the self-sacrificing, team-based scoring approach to cleaning the glass.
“I’ve never been a post. I’ve always been a guard. But I’m going to be a post this year because they need me to. I’m going to have to step up my rebounding,” said senior Shelby Davis, who averaged 3.1 rebounds per game last season.
Jones pointed to reigning 3A state runner-up Mt. Vernon as the favorite in Hoosier Heritage Conference play, whilst Laker stated the favorites to win the Cougar-hosted Sectional 9 tournament are Anderson (defending champs) and Connersville.
Nevertheless, Laker expects to compete for those championships.
“We don’t have Katie. We don’t have Rae. So? The next person will step up, and we’re going to be OK. I think it’s going to be a fun team to watch. We’re going to have growing spurts,” he said. “Are we going to be the world’s best team right away? No. But hopefully by the end of the year, we’re going to be very, very good and very, very challenging.”
Keep An Eye On
The Cougars need Jones to up her per-game averages in all categories — specifically points (8.6) and rebounds (5.7) — to alleviate the losses of LaRae Cruz and Katie Peters. Coach Doug Laker said Jones became a well-rounded offensive threat in the offseason, adding range to her outside shot (she attempted one three-pointer last season) and ball-handling skills to her repertoire. It’s not out of the question to think Jones could wind up averaging close to a double-double.