WEST LAFAYETTE -- Upon being hired as the new head coach at his alma mater, Jamie McCrea had one clear cut goal for the Ridgewood High program -- he hopes to bring back the pride in Generals' boys basketball.
McCrea, a 1988 graduate of RHS, has been a longtime fixture on the Generals' sports scene, having served on the football coaching staff for 19 years as well as coaching basketball at the freshman, junior varsity and junior high levels.
"I want to bring back the school spirit for basketball and get the community back involved like they used to be" McCrea explained. "I can remember what it was like back in the late '70s when we packed the gym here at Ridgewood for basketball. We want to build that interest back up. I know it will take time, but that's my goal."
McCrea takes over for Alan Keessee, who guided the Generals' boys program for four years including an 11-12 record last season.
"We're starting with a clean slate this year," McCrea said. "I'm looking to lay a solid foundation for this program that we can build on. I want to be know as a high energy team that applies pressure defense all over the floor."
McCrea will have a total of just three lettermen back to usher in his initial campaign.
Leading the way for the RHS veterans will be senior Ryan Lowe (6-3, F) who is a two-year letterwinner and averaged 6.5 point per game last season.
"Ryan has played a lot of varsity basketball and is our leader for sure," McCrea said. "We will look to build around him and will look for him to lead us. He's our best shooter and is a versatile player who can play both inside and outside. He's a natural leader with also being the quarterback of the football team and others already look up to him. Add to that he's a great kid who loves the game and has a great work ethic."
The other two lettermen for the Orange and Black are senior Seth Bergeron (5-9, G) and junior Matt Saylor (6-4, F).
"Seth will be our point-guard and he has a great ability to get to the rim," McCrea continued. "He's a very athletic players who has the ability to create for other players as well as himself. I'm looking for big things from him this year."
"Matt is a long, athletic player who will be in the post area for us," the RHS coach said. "He will usually draw our opponents' top post player defensive assignment, and we will need him to battle on the boards for us also. I'm confident he will be up to the challenge this year."
A trio of players that McCrea feels will make an impact include senior D.J. Varian (6-1, G) junior Matt Leitz (6-3, F) and sophomore Austin Lowery (6-0, G).
"Matt will be a player that is asked to do a little of everything for us," McCrea explained. "He's a very hard-working kid who is willing to work hard."
Lowery will fill the role as the back-up point-guard for Bergeron, and McCrea feels will be a key reserve for the Generals.
"Austin is another real athletic kid for us who has been around the program for a number of years," McCrea said. "He got in some time last year and looks to have a much bigger role for us this season. I see him as a key piece coming off the bench for us."
"D.J can be a real weapon for us...he's a streak shooter that can carry a team when he gets hot," McCrea said. "D.J. can be a real asset to us this year and will get plenty of opportunity to make an impact."
McCrea also feels that senior Tyler Milligan (5-11, F) and juniors Jarrett Art (6-3, C) and Gage Young (6-2, F) will fill valuable roles for RHS this season.
"Jarrett gives us some length off the bench and we will need him to rebound," McCrea said. "And Tyler and Gage are both high energy guys who makes things happen when they are on the floor."
McCrea also will have a large, talented freshman class at his disposal that could play important roles as the season progresses.
"I really like my freshman class," McCrea explained. "We have good numbers and they have a lot of ability with that group. There is a real possibility for them to help us out at the varsity level at some point this year."
Freshmen who will play on the junior varsity class include Zachary Austin (C), Austin Ellis (G), Rayven Davidson (F), Trent Harrison (G), Bryce Hains (G), Braeden Smith (G), Keith Leindecker (C), Nathaniel Thompson (F) and Jhett Slusser (G). Rounding out the JV roster will be sophomores Cole Lillibridge (G) and Evan Colling (F).
McCrea's coaching staff includes former RHS head coach Travis Simmons who will serve junior varsity coach and Ryan Gress as a varsity assistant.
"I feel fortunate that I get to coach with some good friends who I know very well," McCrea continued. "Having Travis on my staff is a real plus. He's just a basketball guy who has a lot of knowledge. He's been a head coach and brings a lot of experience that will really been a huge help to me.
"Ryan is a young guy who has been coaching numerous sports here at Ridgewood," McCrea added. "I'm looking to give him a little more responsibility than he's had in the past. I feel he has a bright future as a coach and is ready for that challenge."
In sizing up the race in the Inter-Valley Conference, McCrea points to a trio of frontrunners.
"I feel that Hiland, Malvern and Garaway have the edge going into the year," McCrea said. "Plus I feel TCC (Tuscarawas Central Catholic) should be improved. There's just not a any nights off in the IVC. We will just need to be ready to play each and every night we take the floor."
Ridgewood opens the season on Tuesday, Dec. 3 hosting Sandy Valley.