Getting out on a Tuesday night in June meant that Bounce got to take in four area teams who are in various stages of rebuilding after graduation and other changes depleted what they had last season.
Luckily for me, Heritage coach Adam Gray wanted this guy out in Monroeville to do just that as Heritage hosted a slew of schools for both varsity and junior varsity games. Me, I just took in the varsity and those four teams that are looking for an identity. The evening was nice to see teams from the Northeast 8, Allen County Athletic Conference and Northeast Corner Conference that I don’t get to see as often during the regular season.
For some of these teams, this even was their first action of the summer together. So, as always with my takeaways during the month of June, please just remember that is still just the month of June.
Immediately, the Patriots came out in a 2-3 zone against Bellmont, which is kind of indicative on their need to get acquainted with the varsity game, especially against a bigger team as the Braves are. The movement defensively was uniformed most of the time showing a good sync for a team that coach Adam Gray says hasn’t really put heavy schemes in at this point. Though their lack of bumping a baseline cutter in their zone did lead to eventual easier plays at the rim for Bellmont.
One of their many new faces, Jacob Saylor, was noticeably physical in the bottom middle of the zone, not giving anything easy to Bellmont’s Kade Fuelling who is the Braves top target. Saylor kept square and sat down defensively, up on Fuelling when needed but aware of the baseline play behind him. Also into a new role is freshman to be Elijah Brown, who is long and as athletic as anyone Heritage has. He could be a guy to try and fill the role of Cameron Mitchell in the post as a player who can fill up the rebounding stat sheet by pure work ethic; yet Brown is still clearly pretty raw. Heritage lost almost everyone to graduation so new guys stepping into these roles is a good sign in June.
One of the guys who does stay is Parker Tracey, who will need some internal processing of what his role is. Tracy is a big momentum guy, vocal and feisty and that continued on Tuesday night. As the pace setter and currently sometimes point guard, he is going to need to pick and choose his spots better knowing he can’t settle or the whole team will feel easier settling. That said, I was not shy last season on my appreciation for the energy of Tracey and that won’t change, only the role in which he uses it.
As the Northeast 8 develops into a frantic tempo league, Bellmont has adjusted. They get the ball and get out on the break well and movement between Scott James, Tyler James and Kade Fuelling looks in mid season form most of the time.
Fuelling is making the argument that he could be the most complete player in the Northeast 8. He is a threat everywhere on the floor and does with a laid back, even nature that makes you question what his next move will be. I remained impressed with his versatility that forces teams to never be able to afford to lose track of him; yet somehow he more often than not wiggles free.
The Braves respond well to the sideline, which is a great advantage to have at this juncture. They listen to their coach, move to his voice, improve based on his tips and respond to his positive thoughts and his criticism. I can easily see this being a Bellmont team that improves every time they are on the court for the next nine months.
Gregory Bolt is physical and disruptive at the rim but needs to work on softening his offensive touch to increase the completion rate of his scoring chances. Combined with Michael Sievers, the Eagles have what could be one of the better post duos in their conference, though I want to see them work off each other more before I am willing to anoint that. The size and physical nature they both play with was impressive. I was also impressed by the on ball man to man defense of TJ Bedwell, who really stripped Jay County of momentum while also stripping them of the ball in the open court on more than one occasion.
Mitchell Wilson (main image) is an absolute dog who is willing to attack on moments notice. He played incredibly intelligent basketball and you can almost see the wheels in motion in his eyes. That has to be a guiding force for Columbia City, who has been knocked in recent seasons for in game complacency. This did not look like a complacent team, even when their shots just weren’t falling. Credit for that has to somewhat go to Mitchell because of the pace and expectation he sets. There are those who would argue he hasn’t gotten his just due in his career yet; Tuesday’s effort, where he was met with contact on every drive and often still finished, made me question why even I haven’t fully jumped on the Wilson hype train yet.
The Eagles also shoot the ball well, but maybe not consistently enough yet. When their ball rotation moves quick through the post, they are creating good looks for each other. Impressive in that area what the shot selection and form of Mason Baker.
Being able to compete with Bellmont and make the game rough is good for a team with a new coach and a newish roster. That was the first thought about West Noble on Tuesday after they had already hung with Jay County earlier in the evening.
Ethan Marsh is just over a week into his time with the Chargers as their new coach, but patrolled the sidelines like a seasoned pro that he is. Though West Noble did not win their game against Bellmont, Marsh got them in the position to win and West Noble did force overtime despite eventually falling thanks to the dreaded “sudden death” stipulation. What I saw from West Noble was a huge moral victory and those don’t have to be hollow in the month of June.
Marsh is finding his pace setters and Brockton Miller is going to be a the top of that list because he surveys the court well and could become a true to form pass first point guard. The need for him in crucial closing minutes against Bellmont was abundant as he has pretty quality decision making. This is a team that could flourish with Josh Gross‘ ability to play inside and outside because of the matchup problem he could be for at least half of the NECC. With a longer Kade Fuelling of Bellmont on him Tuesday, Gross took more to the outside, set very hard screens and rolled outward to make his defender play chase. That said, he is tough at the basket so when teams don’t have a long defender to deal with Gross, he is showing an aptitude for strong post play.
Work ethic is something that Marsh clearly preaches and West Noble won’t be short of that. Joel Mast, Kyle Mawhorter and Braden Brewster are guys who were constantly in motion from opening whistle to closing horn. Brewster willed the ball away from a Bellmont offensive player to start overtime after Bellmont had won the tip. It was a big time play made by the guy who just wanted the ball more.
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