Veteran juniors to lead New Palestine boys hoops

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New Palestine’s Ben Slagley fights for possession during the IHSAA Class 4A Southport Regional against Brownsburg, Saturday, 11, 2023.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

NEW PALESTINE – They will still have the motto, “Gritty, Not Pretty”, but the New Palestine Dragons boys basketball team will look considerably different than it did in 2022-23 when it set a school single-season record for wins (23) and winning streak (15), and finished the season ranked No. 10 in the Class 4A Associated Press poll.

Six seniors graduated from last year’s club, including four starters. That group had star point guard Blaine Nunnally,who led the Dragons in points (17.2) and assists (5.2). He is the program’s all-time leader in assists and one of its all-time leading scorers. Also in that impressive class of grads was 6-6 Ian Stephens (15 points, 7.8 rebounds) an invited walk-on at Indiana University this season.

Defensive stopper Bryant Nunnally, starter Eian Roudebush, Kendall Hill and Daniel Tippit have also graduated.

“We’re trying to put the pieces together and figure out who we are and what our identity is going to be,” New Palestine head coach Trent Whitaker said. “I think we’ll continue to have the toughness and play hard. I’m not a big slogan guy but we use “Gritty Not Pretty.” That’s kind of who we’ve been the last three years. Hopefully if we can continue that we’ll continue to get a few more wins.”

The Dragons will have a junior-heavy roster with three of the eight having considerable varsity experience.

Ben Slagley is a 6-4 junior in his third season as a starter. Cousins Julius Gizzi (6-3) and Moses Haynes (5-11) were first players off the bench during last year’s historic season, which included a Hoosier Heritage Conference championship and Muncie Central Sectional title.

Slagley is the top returning scorer (10 points per game) and rebounder (6.7 rpg). Gizzi was close behind in points (8.9). Haynes averaged 3.5 points and was second on the team in assists at 2.6.

“It starts with Julius,” Whitaker said of the junior forward/guard who was the team’s top scorer over the summer and in last week’s scrimmage against Scecina. “I think when people see him they’ll definitely see a different kid on the floor. He’s not just a stand-still shooter anymore. He has transformed his body, slimming down a little bit and he’s able to get to the rim and use his body well to defend people. He has good court vision.

“Mo is going to be the coach on the floor at the point guard position. He had a great sophomore year last year, he shot the ball well. Ben has started since his freshman year. He’s been a steady guy for us and does a little bit of everything. He’s worked on his 3-point shot a little bit and we’ll see if he can put that to use in games.”

Filling in the rest of the starting lineup and first players off the bench is a work in progress as the Dragons prepare for the Dec. 1 season opener at Eastern Hancock.

Their Nov. 22 scheduled opener at Richmond was postponed due to the success of the New Palestine football team. Whitaker said this weekend will be the first time he’ll have his entire roster all together.

Brady Armstrong, a standout safety on the football team, and a member of last year’s varsity roster, is the team’s only senior.

The rest of the team will be made up of players that were on last year’s junior varsity. Five juniors, Keagan Harrison (6-2), Austin McMahan (6-2), Rigg Mahurin (5-11), Alex Guhl (6-1) and Landon Seib (6-1) are all vying for playing time, though Seib may be slowed after a late-game injury in the football team’s semi-state contest at East Central. Evan Darrah (5-10) is the only sophomore on the roster.

Armstrong, Harrison, McMahan, Guhl and Seib are all just getting in basketball mode after football.

“There are two starting spots open and a few spots off the bench open,” Whitaker said. “Those could change from day-to-day and week-to-week. We may not have the same starting lineup every single night like we did last year. I think our practices will be really competitive and intense. It’s a healthy competition.”

The home opener is Dec. 2 against Rushville. The first HHC game is at home Dec. 8 against rival Greenfield-Central.

“Last year we had a group of seniors that showed they wanted to win,” Whitaker said. “They did the dirty work, hustle plays, made winning plays. Hopefully we can mature our junior class to that.

“I think our fans have enjoyed how we played the last couple of years. Not just the wins, I think they appreciated how hard we played and how physical we played.”

2023-24 New Palestine Boys Basketball Schedule

Date;Opponent;Time

Dec. 1;at Eastern Hancock;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 2;vs. Rushville;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 8;vs. Greenfield-Central;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 15;at New Castle;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 16;at Franklin Central;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 29;vs. Jennings County (at Lawrenceburg);1 p.m.

Dec. 29;vs. Newport, Ky. (at L’burg);7 p.m.

Dec. 30;at Lawrenceburg Trny.;TBD

Dec. 30;at Lawrenceburg Trny.;TBD

Jan. 5;vs. Delta;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 12;vs. Pendleton Heights;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 19;vs. Roncalli;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 2o;vs. Franklin;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 24;at Lawrence North;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 26;at Yorktown;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 1;vs. Perry Meridian;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 3;at Southport;2:30 p.m.

Feb. 6;at Guerin Catholic;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 9;vs. Shelbyville;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 10;vs. Connersville;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 16;at Mt. Vernon;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 17;vs. Whiteland;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 23;at Greenwood;7:30 p.m.