Rebuilding a program is never easy, particularly following a dominant stretch under former coach Shabaz Khaliq, but Coach Gary Andrews is ready to enjoy the fruit of his labor.
Over a two-year stretch following Khaliq’s departure, North Side won a combined three games under Andrews’ tutelage with a mix of youth and inexperience. But a 13-win campaign last season showed off what Andrews has been building.
With just one key departure from a season ago in Isaiah Moore (12 ppg), the Legends are loaded with experienced skill and talent, a far cry from Andrews’ first two years at the helm of the program.
“We have a lot of guys with varsity experience and we are hoping to carry some of the momentum we gained at the end of last season.”
North Side won nine of its final 11 games of the season a year ago, with the two losses both coming to Carroll, including a five-point setback to open sectional play. The majority of that team is back, led by leading scorer Brauntae Johnson. As a freshman, Johnson averaged 17 points, six rebounds and over five assists per contest.
“Tae is just such a good all-around player,” Andrews said. “He can score, rebound, pass, play defense and he is a great kid. He makes us go at the point guard position.”
Johnson will have many options around him, including a pair of forwards who are coming off stellar campaigns. Junior Jordan Green (12.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) established himself in the latter half of last season that he can handle physical post players and give as much as he receives. His play around the hoop will be pivotal on a team full of quick guards and versatile wings. Senior Rodney Woods (11 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is an inside-out player who can get to the hoop, crash the boards and push the ball in transition.
“Jordan has really improved his range on his shot,” said Andrews. “He is very athletic, can really score and jump.
“Rodney does all the little things for us,. He is our best defender, plays hard, rebounds, can drive pass and rebound.”
Senior guard Ryan Collins won’t command a lot of attention in terms of accolades, but he is one of the players who have been through the battles as this program has returned to relevancy. His averaged nearly seven points per game a year ago and was the team’s leading three-point shooter – hitting 38 percent of his shots from range.
Junior guard Brashawn Bassett, Johnson’s brother, is another asset who averaged in double figures. Expect his 12.5 ppg mark from a year ago to jump this season.
“Brashawn’s intensity is really important to us,” Andrew said. “He plays hard and doesn’t back down. He can score and has a great jumper from 15 feet in. We need him to be a defensive stopped along with Rodney.”
Senior Jerry Powers adds some depth in the backcourt. He averaged a touch over two points per game a season ago.
Big lineman Jordan King finds himself again on the hardcourt this winter and will eat up space in the post. If the sophomore can find some consistency he will be a key part of the Legends on both ends.
“We have a lot of guys that can score and handle the ball,” Andrews said. “We should be pretty athletic and quick.”
Andrews hopes to see some depth on the roster with a trio of juniors – guards Bravon Bassett and Mike Dye and forward Ivan Hood. Senior center Greg Banks will also see action after transferring from Iowa. At 6-foot-5 he has potential, although even Andrews admits he isn’t sure what he has in him.
While Andrews mentioned a few of his guys as solid defenders, the defense as a whole must be better. The Legends do play a transition game that can result in some big numbers on the scoreboard, North allowed 71 points per game, which is way too high.
The early-season schedule is loaded with big tests – beginning with Lawrence North in the season opener and including the likes of Marion, Warren Central and Warsaw before Christmas, not to mention a big SAC showdown with Snider in mid-December.
After a few years of being an afterthought in the region, North Side is back with a hungry roster led by a coach who has captured state titles in prep hoops and a national championship at the NAIA level. This team has the potential to be the SAC’s best if it can gel as a team and not a set of individuals. Not many teams in the area have the depth of skill and talent that the Legends can employ onto the court.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
While 13 wins a season ago was nice, North finished just 5-4 in the league with losses to Carroll, Homestead and Snider. The Legends must take more pride in its defensive play, as it was way too lackadaisical at times last season. The offensive firepower is plentiful, but this team cannot take the next step without a considerable jump in execution on the defensive end.
DEC. 17 vs. SNIDER
Along with Homestead, the Panthers and Legends are also in the pre-season conversation for who is the favorite in the SAC. This rivalry has had some gems over the years, be it in the regular season, the SAC Holiday Tournament and even sectional play.
Both teams have visions of knocking the Spartans off their SAC perch. To put themselves in a position to do that, they must take out their top FWCS competition early on in the league slate.
RYAN COLLINS, SENIOR
His three-point shooting can be deadly, which makes him one of the Legends’ most important player s on the offensive end.
But Collins’ greatest asset may be his leadership skills and helping to manager the locker room. There is a lot of individual talent on the roster, but how well it comes together is the biggest unknown to outsiders entering this season. Collins has the respect of his teammates. He must lead with actions and words.