With six straight 10-plus win seasons, Coach Bruce Stephens has his Bulldogs as one of the more consistent teams in northeast Indiana.
But over that time, New Haven has not won an outright league championship – tying for one back in 2016.
So will this year see the ‘dogs do some damage in the Northeast 8 and capture a league crown?
To do that, New Haven will need to replace one of the more underrated all-around players in the area in Thomas Latham. The forward averaged 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and a pair of blocks per game as a senior last year. His versatility, grit and leadership will be sorely missed.
So too will fellow forward D’Andre Wright. While a football player by trade, the physicality that Wright brought from his linebacker position on the gridiron to the court was tough for opponents to handle. He averaged eight points and close to four rebounds a game, and the intangibles he brought to the floor may be what is missed the most.
But the cupboard is not bare for New Haven. First Team All-NE8 selection Jakar Williams is back. The quarterback-turned-forward averaged 11 points, five rebounds and four assists per game last season. While his body type says forward at a strong 6-3, Williams is a great passer and could find his way filling a variety of roles for Stephens.
Also back is junior guard Darrion Brooks, who was a Second Team All-NE8 honoree last year. He averaged close to 12 points to go with five rebounds and three assists as a sophomore. Could he be the primary one guard for the ‘dogs, or at least see significant time in that spot due to his exceptional court vision?
The third starter returning is Jackson Turnwald, who was able to score 6.4 points a game last season.
In terms of who will run the point, there are some candidates in senior Nick Myles (1.8 ppg, 1.3 apg) and junior Joseph Robertson (2.9 ppg, 1.3 apg).
New Haven will once again have height in bunches. In addition to the above mentioned returners, senior forwards Myles Harris and Martin King are back. Neither saw too much significant action last year but are expected to fill expanded roles in 2021-22.
A sophomore to watch is James Hardy IV – a familiar name in Indiana high school sports. At 6-3, Hardy is still growing into his frame but should take some steps forward in his development this season. Another sophomore with potential is guard Jeremiah Cottrell.
Newcomers to the varsity roster include a pair of transfer – senior guard Tylor Harding from Snider and junior guard Mathias Garcia from Bishop Luers. Also set to see some floor time is one of the more dynamic wide receivers in the area giving hoops a try in sophomore Mylan Graham.
While the Bulldogs did finish 6-1 in the NE8 last year and won 15 games, the squad was .500 on the road and at neutral sites. This group must find ways to earn victories away from home.
Also holding up this team last year was free throw and three-point shooting. As a team, New Haven hit just 58 percent of its free throws and its best shooter from the line in Latham has moved on to Saint Francis.
Shooting from beyond the arc wasn’t much better, with the ‘dogs hitting just 28 percent (107-of-386) from range.
Glancing at those numbers, it’s a wonder that New Haven won as many games as it did. But it also shows the potential of this group if they can jump those averages up this year, if even by 10 percentage points each.
“Our guys put in the work throughout the summer and are already learning how to work together and play as a team,” Stephens said. “We expect to be quick again this season on and off the ball and we’re looking to have multiple weapons on offense.”
WHY NO. 8?
With a wealth of talent and athleticism dotting the roster, this is shaping up to be another double-digit win team for Coach Stephens at New Haven. The NE8 is set to be competitive once again, but each of the contenders took hard hits due to graduation. If the youngsters of the Bulldogs can acclimate themselves well, this team has a shot at a league crown.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
The lack of an established point guard makes things tough, although New Haven’s run-and-gun style prevents that from being a big issue most games.
What does pull New Haven back from a preseason top five spot is its shooting prowess from the free throw line and three-point arc, or lack thereof. The Bulldogs must be better in those two areas to flirt with an NE8 championship and be a serious threat in the playoffs.
JAN. 14 vs. LEO
The Northeast 8 championship may very well come down to this game in mid-January. Last year, the Lions pummeled the Bulldogs in a 16-point victory that propelled them to the league crown.
New Haven will have had enough time to get their newcomers hitting their stride prior to this one. Can the Bulldogs reciprocate from last year and lay claim to the NE8?
JAKAR WILLIAMS, SENIOR
Thomas Latham was everything to this team a year ago. His absence in both the scorebook and the locker room is huge.
In Latham’s place could be Williams. He is a do-everything player who is used to taking command due to to his career as New Haven’s quarterback on the football field. Now a senior, Williams can score, rebound and play solid defense, and his versatility will be key, but the leadership paramount.