By James Howell | For the Daily Reporter
NEW PALESTINE— Not many teams are built like the 2021-22 New Palestine Dragons basketball team that begins regular-season play next week.
A perfect balance of seniors and juniors, five of each, make up the current varsity roster preparing for the first game of the season next week at Richmond.
Head coach Trent Whitaker knows there is something special about having a balanced roster.
“It is a unique advantage we have this year to have the upperclassmen and overall experience that we do,” Whitaker said. “We can’t let that slow us down. We still have to grow each day, but it definitely helps to have experienced guys that know our style and also younger guys that are eager to learn it and want to step up if they are needed.”
Of that group, senior Steele Brasfield and junior Blaine Nunnally will lead the team into battle after leading them last year as a pair of inexperienced starters.
During the 2020-21 season, Brasfield and Nunnally were thrust into the position of leaders after the departure of the record-setting career of Max Gizzi. This year, with experience under their belt, the team has been much more steady in preparation for the start of the year.
Whitaker spoke after a recent practice about how the experience has helped the Dragons in getting ready, despite not having the entire team available for practice everyday.
“While we are just now getting the guys that played football this year into the gym with us, the experience helps out a lot,” Whitaker said. “Those guys have been doing their thing in football and the guys that didn’t play football have been getting ready for a few months now. Blaine came in ready to go and so did the rest of the football guys.”
Last season, Nunnally averaged 16.7 points, 4.2 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. Brasfield led the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 17.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
The duo didn’t lead the Dragons to a 14-9 (5-2 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference) record alone last year. The seniors from last year’s team, Matt Brown, CJ Oliver, Kyle Bastian and Eli Stephens will not be around to help out this year.
Instead, the duo and Whitaker will look to the likes of Damon Hockett, Bryant Nunnally and Ian Stephens to fill in those roles.
“There are a lot of guys that are going to have to step up this year,” Whitaker said. “We lost Eli, but this is a perfect place for his brother Ian to step up and fill in the role on the team. Blaine’s brother Bryant also has a big opportunity to step up this year and provide us with valuable minutes.”
With a group of guys ready to step up along with other experienced players, the Dragons have hit the practice court running with the goals of competing for the highly-contested HHC title and making it to the regional round of the IHSAA tournament.
“Our goals are the same every year,” Whitaker said. “We are in the tough HHC with some really strong teams, but we feel like every year we should be competing for the conference title. We also set out the goal of being in Southport for the regional round of the tournament. Those goals haven’t changed this year.”
Up first, the Dragons will look to go through the Richmond Red Devils at the daunting Tiernan Center. Whitaker explains though, that his team will be ready and prepared to step back on the court in Richmond.
“There are things we will clean up as a group this weekend with our scrimmage against Scecina and in practice before Wednesday night’s game with Richmond,” Whitaker said. “We are going to be ready to go.”
Next Wednesday, the Dragons step on the court for the first time of many times this year with a goal of leaving victorious.