NEW PARIS — Mike Harrison has something this season most high school boys basketball coaches don’t – a pair of returning first-team all-league players.
And that has put a bulls-eye right on National Trail.
The Blazers, coming off a district final appearance for the first time since the mid-1990’s, return junior Cameron Harrison and senior Zach Woodall.
But coach Harrison is quick to point out he lost five of his top eight players, which will be hard to replace.
“We lost a ton of experience. A lot of guys who provided a lot of leadership for us. Everyone of them was very good at the defensive end. So, we lost a lot,” he said.
In addition to Cameron Harrison and Woodall, junior Tyler Weathington also returns.
“We can’t complain. We’ve got to guys who were all-league coming back. Zach Woodall is a four-year varsity player. Cameron Harrison is a three-year varsity player. We’re breaking in a lot of new guys. We don’t have a lot of people back. But those two provide a lot of experience. Tyler also lettered last year coming off the bench for us,” Mike Harrison said.
The veteran coach said his team should be able to score points, but will need to improve on the defensive end if they are going to repeat last season’s success.
“I think we are going to be able to score the ball. You’d hope that those guys will provide leadership. I know that’s a catch phrase — provide leadership — What is that? Well, in times of adversity maintaining your composure. Those times when everybody kind of gets rattled you got to have some guys whose experience allow them to get through that. The inevitable ups and downs of the season. Trying to make sure we stay even keeled and progressing forward. In big moments knowing what to say and how to keep pushing in the right direction.,” the coach said. “That’s what we kind of expect out of them.”
Harrison takes pride of his team’s ability to defend.
“With a lot of new guys we’ve got to figure out how to stop somebody. We lost a boat load of extremely good defenders. It’s not going to be as easy. We’re working on things and trying to get better. Hopefully, those guys provide leadership from that aspect,” he said. “ Last year we were able to win a lot of games and they weren’t all because we outscored people. There were a lot of nights where your shooting inevitably is going to be off and you just don’t have it. We were able to ride through most of those games because we shut people down.”
Weathington, who came off the bench in a limited role last year ,will be a key this year.
“We’re going to be asking a lot of him and expecting a lot from him. He’s high energy post guy. You just love those guys who are just active,” Mike Harrison said.
Senior Colton Toms will also see some key time, as will senior Coleton Everman.
“Colton Toms is a senior that is going to be asked to handle the ball some. Play good defense. Knock down a shot once in a while and provide that leadership we talk about,” Coach Harrison said. “Coleton Everman is just a tough hard-nosed kid who gets every last bit of everything out of his abilities.”
Rounding out the roster are sophomore Wyatt House, senior Elijah Hughes, Michael Leal, Jacob Ray and Caleb Van Winkle.
Expectations are high once again.
“With the people we have back we’d be silly if our expectations weren’t high. But we have a lot of inexperience and we’re not, right now, were not where we were last year,” coach Harrison said. “We just got to keep working to get better. I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good, but there’s a lot of work to be put in through the year. There’s a lot of experience to be gained. Got to learn as we go. I think our expectations are to compete for league championships and hopefully, the kids got a taste of a run in the tournament last year, that wasn’t a one year thing. They want to be in a position where they can have a chance at that.”
The league race is wide open, according to Mike Harrison.
“I really think it’s wide-open. I’m sure that a lot of people are saying a lot of good things about us. (But) they don’t practice with us every day. I hope to be one of those teams that are in the fight,” he said. “Certainly, you would expect Arcanum with the amount of talent, if they can get everybody healthy, they have to be right there. I don’t think you can sleep on the Ansonia’s and the Mississinawa’s and some of these other teams that may not have those high profile guys coming back, but they seem to have some talent.”
He wants fans to see an unselfish team.
“I hope they seen an unselfish team that is willing to share the ball, is willing to play roles that are required to help win games and play as absolutely as hard as possible every night,” he said.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH