GREENFIELD — Good shooters. Team defense needs work.
That was the assessment of Michael Lewis upon the first practices with his Greenfield-Central boys basketball team.
Lewis was hired May 30 to replace Josh Johnson, who resigned after five seasons, and Lewis has spent the last six weeks getting to know his new players.
The 30-year-old former Delphi coach is aiming to turn around a program that has suffered 10 straight losing seasons, including last year’s 5-18 mark.
Lewis – 57-33 in five seasons at Delphi – believes the Cougars have solid building blocks. G-C’s top seven scorers from a year ago return, led by six-foot-3 incoming junior Tate Hall, who averaged 14.7 points as an All-Hancock County honoree.
“I think that there’s no doubt we’ve got some kids who can shoot the basketball,” Lewis said. “I think that will be a strength of ours. I think we’ve got multiple kids who can step and make the 3.”
In June, the Cougars traveled to a shootout at Purdue University as well as a team camp at Rose-Hulman. Hall, seniors Dallas Pribble (7.5 ppg last season) and Zach Batton (4.0) and juniors Blake Robertson (3.0) and Chandler Bean (5.8) – all guards – were among the summer shooting leaders for the club, Lewis said.
Senior forwards Cole Oleksy (8.0 ppg) and Griffin Lowe (5.6 ppg) are also key returnees for a group without overwhelming size.
“They are both going to be essential,” the coach remarked of the twin posts. “If they are active and aggressive they will add another element to our team.”
Hoping to break into a deep rotation is sophomore John Davis, a 5-11 guard who “has had a really, really nice summer,” according to Lewis. “Now, whether that fits into varsity minutes or not, I don’t know. But he is an extremely good athlete and he has a skill set that makes him a little bit unique.
“We have a lot of kids back from last year’s team, and there hasn’t been anybody that I’ve looked at that I think, ‘Man that kid can’t play.’ I think they’re all capable of finding a role and being an integral part of what we’re trying to build here.”
Added Batton, the senior guard, “We know we have plenty of depth on the bench, so we can get out and go. If we get the intensity up on the defensive end, that will carry over to offense and transition points. “
While many high school programs are gearing down in July, and players head to the AAU circuit, the Cougars have continued to work at the G-C gym this week.
Among the priorities: Correct a defensive mindset that has allowed, on average, nearly 60 points per game for the last losing decade.
“We’ve got to get a lot better defensively ... our defensive awareness, finishing possessions with a purpose,” Lewis said. “I also think some of it is culture with these kids. We’ve got to stop hoping to win and start expecting to win.
“I’m not only talking about the game. We have to compete to win each individual possession. I think once we get that instilled in the kids, we’ll start to see some success.”
Aiding Lewis in the teaching process is new junior varsity coach Gary Cerqua, a former assistant at Cambridge City Lincoln. Previous JV coach Jared Manning is now G-C’s athletic director, and former varsity assistant Isaac Beal has been hired as the new boys head soccer coach (also Manning’s previous position).
Lewis, a math teacher at G-C, is still searching for a varsity assistant and freshman coach.
Among other changes, 4A Avon has been added to the G-C docket in place of 2A Cambridge City. The Cougars are also hoping to add two games, per a recent IHSAA directive allowing the extra contests.
It’s a period of transition for the Cougars, some of whom were surprised and saddened following the departure of Johnson.
“I was kind of disappointed,” Pribble said. “But after (Lewis) came in I was kind of excited. He raises the intensity up. It was kind of a shock, but we like him a lot.”
Batton agreed that there is a natural transition period that comes with a new coach.
“The first instinct is it’s bad, because I’ve been with (Johnson) for all three years so far,” he said. “But I really like coach Lewis. He’s coming in bringing new things. I think it will turn out for great for us.”