WEST LAFAYETTE -- Entering year two of guiding the Ridgewood High boys' basketball program, head coach Jamie McCrea will once again be dealing with a very young roster for the Generals during the 2014-15 campaign.
A total of eight sophomores and three juniors comprise the General's 11-player varsity roster.
"You can look at our youth in two ways, explained McCrea, a 1988 Ridgewood graduate. "You can use it as an excuse or use it as motivation. We are young, but we have a bright future ahead of us and the kids are not intimidated.
"We have a large group of our sophomores who played varsity last year as freshmen," the Generals' coach continued, "so they are ready for the speed of the varsity level and this year that should slow down some for them."
Last season, in McCrea's first year leading the program, the Generals struggled to a 4-19 mark overall including a 2-14 record in the Inter-Valley Conference for an eighth place finish.
A pair of leaders from that RHS team were lost to graduation in Ryan Lowe, who was a three-year lettermen and led the Generals in scoring at around 10 points per game along with four rebounds per outing. Also absent will be guard Seth Bergeron, who checked in at around five points and two assists per night.
"Ryan was a real leader around here and we will miss him this year for sure," McCrea said. "He did a lot of things for us that didn't always show up in the box score. Seth was really a leader out on the court and he and Ryan both were a steadying influence on our freshmen who got thrown into the fire last year."
Three of those RHS freshmen who got extended minutes a year ago, return as sophomore lettermen in Braeden Smith (6-0, G), Jhett Slusser (6-0, G) and Keith Leindecker (6-2, F).
Smith is the leading returner scoring after a 5.8 ppg average last year, including hitting on 30-of-66 three-point attempts for a sizzling 45.5 percent clip. Slusser was right behind at 4.8 ppg and Leindecker checked in at 4.7 ppg.
"Braeden can really shoot the ball....he gives us a legitimate three-point threat," McCrea said. "He just needs to improve his defense and rebounding, but he's a great shooter and has a chance to be a special player. Jhett is a slasher type player who also has a good shot and will handle the ball alot for us.
"Keith is a big man full of energy," McCrea continued. "He will draw the defensive assignment against the other team's best big man most nights. We will also count on him to be a force off the glass in rebounding for us."
Another pair of sophomores who saw extensive varsity minutes last year but failed to letter figure to draw starting roles are Rayven Davidson (6-0, G) and Trent Harrison (5-11, F).
"Both Rayven and Trent are athletic kids," McCrea said. "Rayven will help Jhett with the ballhandling duties and usually guard the top scorer for our opponent.
"Trent is a strong kid who will help us on the boards," the RHS coach added. "He can hit the jump shot and is coming off a good football season so is playing with a lot of confidence."
First options off the bench for McCrea will be sophomores Nathaniel Thompson (6-2, F), Austin Ellis (5-11, F) and junior Cole Lillibridge (5-10, G).
"Nate will be our first big man off the bench, he's an excellent screener and can guard any position," McCrea said. "Austin is a real smart player and knows his role. He works really hard and do a few good things to help us.
"Cole is right in there competing to see some minutes," he added. "Hopefully, he can come in and give us some good minutes out on the floor."
Rounding out the RHS varsity roster are juniors Evan Colling (6-1, F) and Christian Lippencott (5-10, G) along with sophomore Bryce Hains (5-10, G).
"The key for us is going to be how we play defense and rebound," McCrea explained. "Offensively, this will be their fourth year running this offense and they should have a good handle on it.
"Our whole focus is on our defense and rebounding the basketball," the RHS mentor offered. "We need to step up our defensive pressure and be more aggressive. We may not be the biggest team size-wise, but we have athletes who can go get the ball."
Ridgewood's junior varsity team is comprised of sophomores Dallas Banks (5-10, G) and Zach Austin (5-11, F) along with freshmen Hunter Mizer (5-9, G), Zach Wright (5-8, G), Chase Griffith (5-8, G), Adam Matusik (5-11, F), Jarrett Slusser (5-9, F), Seth Adkins (5-11, F), Drew Boise (5-6, G) and Nick Morton (5-7, F).
"I like my freshman class...there's some talent there," McCrea said. "They give us some depth and they know after last year that I will play freshman on varsity if they earn it."
In looking at the race for the Inter-Valley Conference title, McCrea feels it starts with the "Big Four" of the league.
"I feel it will be a toss-up with the 'Big Four' of Hiland, TCC, Malvern and Garaway," McCrea offered. "We hope to defend our home court and be competitive with that 'Big Four' each time out.
"I feel the IVC is one of the top-notch small school leagues in the entire state," he said. "It's always very competitive year-in and year-out and I don't see that changing this year."
McCrea's coaching staff for this season includes Travis Simmons as varsity assistant with Ryan Gress as junior varsity coach. Junior High coaches are Lester McCurdy, Troy Dolick and Tyler McCullough.
"I think I learned a lot last year at the varsity level," McCrea said. "I'm excited to get back to work and like the effort and attitude the kids are giving me. I'm confident we will get better and show marked improvement this year."