The common word thrown around at most Harrison Central basketball practices thus far has been "compete."
That's will be the moniker for the 2013-14 Huskies, who begin their season Saturday at River View.
"Our competitiveness will definitely be a strength," said Huskies' head coach Justin Clifford, who is embarking on his fifth season at the helm. "These kids have all competed well and they're doing it every day in practice."
T-L Photo/MIKE PALMER
PICTURED IS the 2013-14 Harrison Central basketball team. Front row, from left, are Tison Johnson, Dalton Rutter, Austin Kowalski, Brandon Mitchell, Joshua Christian, Cody Evans and manager Brady Eikleberry. Standing, from left, are assistant coach Derek Madiza, assistant coach Bryce Allen, assistant coach Chad Figurski, Cory Yoho, Dustin Redish, Brice Walrath, David Miser, Kalub Mitchell, Nate Olmstead, assistant coach Willy Walker and head coach Justin Clifford.
While the competitive nature of the Huskies won't be questioned, there is a lack of experience to an extent.
Clifford had to a double take when he walked into the gym practice for the first time earlier this month.
For the first time since he's been in charge of the Huskies program, neither Nick Pelegreen, Rashaen Mitchell nor Fletcher Watt were anywhere to be found.
The backbone of the Huskies program has graduated after brilliant prep careers, including a senior season that resulted in a 16-8 record.
"We'll miss those guys," Clifford offered. "They all started as freshmen for me, but we'll move on and it's time for new guys to step up into new roles and we're excited to see how they do in those roles."
While the remaining and new players will take on greater roles, Clifford doesn't want, or expect, them to feel additional pressure. But, instead, he wants them to play within themselves inside the framework of the offense.
"Some of the guys aren't used to being the man and we talk about that all the time," Clifford said. "They just have to do their part, but their part isn't going to be exactly what they did last year. It's that and more."
The Huskies' approach is going to remain the same in terms of their commitment to the defensive end and desire to play up and down.
"Size and scoring are going to be our Achilles heel," Clifford said. "We had a decent summer, but we were beating teams 25-23, so we didn't exactly fill it up. We want to get a high number of possessions."
Clifford believes the scoring could come around as the players settle into their new roles and realize they need to become 'scorers.'
"We're going to have to create offense with our defense," Clifford said. "Our guys understand the system a little bit more. Understanding how, when and why to score are areas where we're working hard."
The Huskies will be a relatively deep club, playing no fewer than 10 guys most nights.
"We're making the kids prove it in practice to earn the right to play," Clifford said. "Our guys are really buying in. They're all good athletes who've excelled in other sports, so we're trying to build off of that."
Harrison Central returns two starters from from a club that was bounced in the sectional by Indian Creek and finished 16-8.
Junior point guard Austin Kowalski (5-9) will be the leader on both ends of the floor for the Huskies.
"Austin's role will expand significantly," Clifford said. "He's going to be the guy we look to to get us a bucket and he's not been in that role in the past. He's an intelligent kid, who is a basketball junkie, so I think he'll do well with that."
The other returning starter is junior Kalub Mitchell (5-10) who will be in the post. He was a lock-down defender, which Clifford wants to continue, but he'll also need to take more shots.
"Kalub may have taken one shot a game last year," Clifford joked. "He's going to increase that number. He's going to be our inside guy."
Senior David Miser (6-3) will be another on the interior who will be looked upon for rebounding and scoring.
Senior Dalton Rutter (5-9), who Clifford thinks the sky is the limit for, is expected to have a big season. He's a solid ball handler and a talented defender.
Senior Nate Olmstead (5-10) will be one of the top perimeter shooters for the Huskies.
Senior Cody Evans (5-10) is another adept perimeter shooter, who Clifford said "has never met a shot he didn't like."
Sophomore Dustin Redish (5-10) is another solid defender, but Clifford needs him to cut down on his aggressive to the point where he's not hampered by foul trouble.
Junior Cory Yoho (6-1), sophomore Brandon Mitchell (5-9) and Tison Johnson (5-9) will round out the varsity rotation. Sophomore Brice Walrath (6-3) is another who could work his way into the rotation.
Ticketed for junior varsity action are junior Josh Christian (5-9), sophomore Isaac Arnold (6-4).
A large freshman class working to get into the mix are: Zach Henry, Kyle Roberts, Jacob Barr, Bobby Taylor, Grant Sproull, Tyler Reddish and Hunter Sloan.
"I think we're going to be a fun team to watch," Clifford said. "I know our guys are going to compete well. Realistically, if you look at our schedule, I think we can compete with anyone. That doesn't mean we'll win them al or anything, but I think we can give ourselves a chance to win the basketball game."
The Huskies have made a few minor changes to the schedule. They've added home-and-home games with Beaver Local and Shadyside. They'll also play Weir once.
"It's a good schedule for us," Clifford said. "We want to play local schools that have good programs and we think we've done that with the teams we've added."
The one major change for the Huskies comes in the postseason. Harrison Central is in Division III after spending the last several seasons in Division II.
"We weren't really surprised when the numbers came out," Clifford said. "We're always on the border.
"We go from being one of the smallest Division II schools to being one of the biggest Division III schools. It really doesn't matter though because you're going to have to beat someone good, regardless of what division you're playing in."
Clifford is blessed with a quality coaching staff. Chad Figurski is back as the varsity assistant. Blake Allen is coaching the junior varsity and Willy Walker leads the frosh program. Serge Gentile and Derek Madzia round out the varsity staff.
Working at the junior high level are Ty Kenny (seventh) and Ian White (eighth). They're assisted by T.T. DiLoretto.