WEST LAFAYETTE -- Coming off a couple of tough seasons on the hardwood for Ridgewood High, the Generals are hoping this will be a turnaround season with a boost from the success the Ridgewood football team enjoyed.
In fact, third-year RHS coach Jamie McCrea is hoping some of that success on the gridiron translates onto the basketball floor.
"We are not in great basketball shape just yet due to the football players just getting some practice time," McCrea stated. "But maybe we can use that as a positive and get that success on the football field to carry over for us."
"Our kids learned how to win on the football field and got a taste of winning," McCrea continued. "I hope they now take that new confidence and use it out on the basketball court."
Last season, the Generals struggled to a disappointing 2-21 record which included a 1-15 mark in the Inter-Valley Conference.
"Our kids have struggled the last few years as we have been really young...a lot of guys just getting used to the varsity level," McCrea explained. "It's not they have not been working hard and doing their best. I want to see them rewarded for all that hard work they have put in the last few years."
A plus for Ridgewood is that it suffered no graduation losses and will return a total of seven lettermen who have endured the tough times the last few seasons.
Leading the charge this season for the Generals will be a trio of two-year lettermen in juniors Jhett Slusser (6-0, G), Braeden Smith (6-1, G) and Keith Leindecker (6-3, F).
Slusser returns as the leading scorer from a year ago with 15.7 points per game along with 5.0 rebounds per night and dished out 2.3 assists.
"Last year Jhett played mostly at point guard but we are moving him to the wing this year," McCrea said. "He was never a true point guard as he's more of a slasher type player. So by moving him to wing we can make better use of his natural talents."
Smith was next on the scoring list for the Generals at 11.0 ppg while pulling down 4.7 rebounds per outing.
"Braeden is a really good shooter and had a tendency to hang out at the three-point line last year," McCrea continued. "We challenged him over the summer to take the ball to the basket more and he really responded. He's a much more rounded player now and has also improved on the defensive end as well."
Leindecker was Ridgewood's leading rebounder last year at 8.0 rebounds a game with a scoring average of 7.3 ppg. and gives the Generals a presence inside the paint.
"Keith is a little banged out now coming off football so we will ease him into action," McCrea offered. "He has really good post moves and also has the ability to put the ball on the floor. Keith is just a skilled big man who can also hit the jumper on you."
McCrea feels that Slusser and Smith will be keys for the Generals offense this season.
"I really fell how Braeden and Jhett fill their roles offensively will be keys for us this year," McCrea added. "We need them to give us consistent offense each and every night out."
A key newcomer for RHS will be sophomore Hunter Mizer (5-9, G) who will take over at point guard for Slusser after seeing mostly JV duty last year as a freshman.
"Hunter is going to be a distributor for us," McCrea explained. "It will be his job to get us into our offense...he's a real quick and athletic kid with good basketball sense. Hunter put in a lot of work over the summer on his game and I feel he's up for the challenge this year"
Help inside the post will come from senior Tanner Shaw (6-5, C), a transfer who lettered last year at nearby Coshocton High.
"Tanner is big and physical inside," McCrea commented. "We will rely on him defensively to protect the rim for us and hopefully give us some scoring inside and rebound for us."
Completing the RHS lettermen back in the fold are senior Cole Lillibridge (5-11, G) along with juniors Nathaniel Thompson (6-2, C) and Austin Ellis (6-0, F).
"Nathaniel, Austin and Cole are all competing for spots in the rotation," the RHS coach said. "They have each played at the varsity level and have game time experience that they can draw from."
Senior Evan Colling (6-1, F) is also working hard to try to break into the Generals' playing rotation according to McCrea.
"Evan has come along way since his sophomore year," McCrea said. "Last year he excepted his role on the JV team and continued to work hard. He has earned his way into working his way into the rotation."
Rounding out the Generals varsity roster will be sophomores Zach Wright (5-10, G) and Chase Griffith (5-9, G) who will also see time on the junior varsity squad.
"I think we are going to be a physical, aggressive defensive team this year," McCrea said. "With our late start in the we will need to pick up some offense off our effort on the defensive end of the court."
Making up the Ridgewood junior varsity team will be juniors Zach Austin (5-11, C), Kaden Edie (5-10, F) along with sophomores Seth Adkins (6-0, F), Adam Matusik (6-1, F), Nick Morton (5-10, G) and Drew Boise (5-9, G).
McCrea's coaching staff for the season includes junior varsity coach Travis Simmons, defensive coordinator John Slusser and freshman coach Ryan Gress.
"Travis, John and I have coached together in various sports for over 20 years now," McCrea offered. "So its great working every day with my best friends."
At the junior high level Jason Prater will coach the seventh grade team and Troy Dolick will handle the eight grade squad.
McCrea again sees the race in the Inter-Valley Conference to be a battle night in and night out.
"The IVC will be competitive once again this year," McCrea said. "Hiland and Garaway are always a force in the IVC race. I also see Sandy Valley being much improved this year."
"I just hope we can compete each night we take the court," McCrea explained. "Especially in the early stages of the season as we get our legs under us."
"We have a very competitive group that is willing to put the time and effort into getting better," McCrea continued. "That makes them a good group to work with and I enjoy working with them every day."