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Offseason basketball: Dragons go uptempo

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NEW PALESTINE – The New Palestine boys basketball team is determined not to make Ryan Curry – the lone returning starter from 2013-14 – bear the entirety of the offensive load this winter.
With most of their summer docket complete, the Dragons believe they’ll have plenty of help for Curry when the 2014-15 campaign tips off.
“We took 11 kids to Bethel (College) and we played them all, and we didn’t have any problem playing them all,” NP coach Adam Barton said of a recent shootout in Mishawaka.  “I could seriously see our first game, subbing five kids for five kids and just going at it over and over.
“Everybody always talks about playing faster, but I think we’ll be able to do that this year. We won’t have the size that we’ve had the last couple years, so that’s kind of what we did (at Bethel), and the kids liked it. They bought into it.”
The class 4A Dragons’ identity last season centered in large part around popping Curry open off screens courtesy of center Seth Cox (7-foot) and forwards Connor Roach (6-4) and Brandon Jonas (6-3).
Curry, a 6-2 guard, averaged a team-best 16.7 points per game and earned Hancock County Player of the Year honors for a squad that finished 10-11.
Cox and Roach have graduated, however – along with starting point guard Samson Haynes –and Jonas, an incoming senior, has decided not to play basketball.
That leaves a smaller unit that will be asked to get up and down the court in quick fashion.
“I don’t know if it’s going to get Ryan as many touches as he saw last year, but I definitely think he’s going to be more efficient than he was last year,” Barton said of Curry, who shot 36 percent from the field as a junior. “I think it takes a ton of pressure off him because what we did all summer wasn’t just based off of ‘run 20 screens for Ryan and get him a shot.’ 
“It just kind of relaxed everybody to have some more options offensively. And he’s talented enough that any time during the season that we need to go to him, I think we can. But I don’t want to go into November thinking that every single set is going to go to Ryan Curry.” 
The Dragons tested their new system in eight games at Bethel in the shootout that included Valparaiso, Logansport, Gary Roosevelt, East Chicago, Ft. Wayne Luers and Hammond Bishop Noll. 
Among the players to take hold as key varsity pieces was Duke Blackwell, an incoming junior.
The 5-9 Blackwell, who came off the varsity bench last season, is slated to take over at point guard.
“Duke is a good leader,” Barton said. “He’s got some football toughness and football strength that he brings with him. He just has a good awareness of where people are supposed to be, and I think he’s going to do a great job.”
Blackwell played in all 21 games for the Dragons last season and averaged 1.9 points. Returning 6-4 senior Kevin Riley (3.5 ppg) also played in each game and is the squad’s second-leading returning scorer after Curry.
Making a leap to heavy varsity minutes are 6-2 senior Alec Cook – “He physically and mentally really fits in with what we’re trying to do with this group,” Barton said – and seniors Taylor Hiland (6-4) and Ben Farley (6-0) and junior Cody Long (6-3).
The new group will have to make up for the loss of leading rebounders Roach, Cox and Jonas, who each pulled down between five and six boards per game. An uptempo offense could negate a size disparity, and the Dragons are also bulking up this summer while playing in fewer leagues and camps.
“We kind of cut down on the number of games we’re playing in the summer just because once you see eight games, you see what you’re going to be for the summer,” Barton said. “There’s only so many things that are going to change in the course of one shootout to the next, so we tried to get in the weight room more this summer and tried to get some more shots up. Just tried to do some more fundamental stuff.”
Notes: Entering his 10th season, Barton (107-91) is the longest-tenured Hoosier Heritage Conference boys coach. … The Dragons are attempting to add 4A Decatur Central and 3A Tri-West to the schedule, per the new IHSAA allowance of two extra games. … Roach, Cox and Jonas averaged between 7.5 and 8.3 points last season; Haynes, 5.5 points and 4.1 assists. … Barton’s coaching staff  remains unchanged, led by Jeff Wright (reserve), Jeremy Large (varsity assistant), Trent Whitaker (varsity assistant) and Chris Cherry (freshman). ... Curry and Greenfield-Central’s Tate Hall were county players invited to the IBCA/IHSAA Top 100 recruiting showcase July 24 at Ben Davis.


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