GREENFIELD — If it was football they would probably throw a yellow flag for piling on.
Already hit hard by graduation from the winningest boys basketball team in school history, the Greenfield-Central Cougars are having to deal with injuries to begin the 2023-24 season, too.
The Cougars open play Tuesday in the annual battle with Beech Grove for the Matt English traveling trophy, named after the inspirational former Greenfield-Central star who later coached the Hornets. English passed away in 2018 after a courageous fight with brain cancer.
Six seniors graduated from the 21-2 Greenfield-Central team that had a school-record 18-game winning streak.
The program’s all-time 3-pointer leader (194), and 1,400-plus point scorer Dylan Moles is now at Marian University. Starters Tyler Kerkhof (9.4 points per game), Will DeJarnett (4.9 rebounds), and Owen Anderson (48 percent 3-point shooter), who often saw starter-like minutes, are gone, too.
They do return one of the state’s and country’s best juniors in 6-feet, 6-inch athletic sharpshooter Braylon Mullins.
Mullins averaged 16.9 points per game last year, shot 58 percent from the field, and averaged team-bests in rebounds (5.2) and steals (2.6). He shot 47-percent from 3-point range.
He had a tremendous summer and has numerous D-I offers including Indiana, Notre Dame and Iowa.
But Mullins, like returnees Jake Hinton (2.5 points per game) and Dallas Freeman (13 games) who are recovering from injuries after getting banged up during football season, is experiencing less than 100 percent health.
Mullins is battling a back problem that will need rest.
Head coach Luke Meredith said, last week, Mullins may be on an NBA-like load-management schedule and wasn’t sure how much, if at all, the Indiana Junior All-Star would play in the team’s opener.
Meredith said, by playing, Mullins’ back won’t get worse, but it won’t get better without rest.
“We may not be fully healthy until after Christmas,” Meredith said.
“All the cards are stacked against us,” he added. “Injuries, youth, the depletion of the winningest team in the history of the school, and add on that it’s easier to win at home and you’re playing twice as many road games as you are home games.”
With a two-game tournament at Morristown, playing the host school in an early-season shootout and having a neutral court game at Hoosier Gym, only seven of the Cougars 22 scheduled contests are at Dellen Automotive Gymnasium. The first five games of the season are away from home. Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Yorktown, on Dec. 15, is the first home game opponent.
Nine of the team’s 10 games in 2023 are on the road or at neutral sites.
Other than Mullins, senior Braden Robertson is the most experienced returnee. The 6-2 forward averaged 3.2 points per game and was a starter most of the season. He and Hinton are the team’s only seniors.
Another sharp-shooter, 5-10 junior Boston Willard, has impressed in the preseason at point guard.
Others expected to make early contributions include juniors Cooper Robertson (6-5, center) and Brady Johnson (6-0, guard) and sophomore Tucker Brown (6-1, guard).
Along with the program’s pillars [Juice, Compete, Standard] Meredith’s added a theme of “Hungry dogs run faster!”
He thinks it’s a fitting phrase for his blue-collar type team.
“We really do have all the cards stacked against us. We do have a really good player in Braylon, but we will have to overcome a lot for us to have success,” Meredith said. “I want our kids to be hungry dogs and compete and do what we do, the G-C way. Coming to watch G-C play should be worth the price of admission, win or lose.
“I want our guys to be able to understand the expectations is to win, but more so, the expectation is to play your (tail) off.”
2023-24 Greenfield-Central Boys Basketball Schedule
Nov. 21;at Beech Grove;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2;at Northeastern;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 5;at Decatur Central;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 8;at New Palestine;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 9;at Southport;12:30 p.m.
Dec. 15;vs. Yorktown;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 16; vs. Lawrenceburg (Hoosier Gym);7:30 p.m.
Dec. 20;at Rushville;7:30 p.m.
Dec. 28;vs. Tri-Central (at Morristown);10 a.m.
Dec. 28;vs. Chatard (at Morristown);5 p.m.
Jan. 5;vs. Mt. Vernon;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12;vs. New Castle;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 13;vs. Eastern Hancock;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 16;vs. Shortridge;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 20;at Shelbyville;7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26;at Pendleton Heights;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 1;at Delta;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 3;at Greenwood;1:30 p.m.
Feb. 9;vs. Franklin County;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 10;at Avon;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 17;at Martinsville;7:30 p.m.
Feb. 21;vs. Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.