Coming into the season, Shawnee head coach Mark Triplett’s primary concern was team chemistry.
The Indians returned six letterwinners back from a team that won 18 games and ended its year in the district finals. The core of players returning would be joined by a talented crop of sophomore players.
But Triplett’s worries were quickly dispelled after the Indians won the Elida Tip-off Classic, and after suffering its lone defeat in the third game of the season to St. Henry, the Indians reeled off 12 straight wins.
“I think we have kids that enjoy playing the game of basketball,” Triplett said when asked why he thinks his team has come together so quickly in the first half of the season. “It is easy to get guys in the right spots when you have kids that care and work hard and I credit our seniors.”
Triplett said the seniors Johnny Caprella, Justin Behnke, Sheridan O’Neal and Jake Hutchins, have sacrificed their individual accolades for wins and helped pave the way for the emergence of sophomores Tyson Elwer and Logan Maxwell, who both saw time last year, along with George Mangas who leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.9 points per contest.
“We are definitely not a team that is looking for one guy to do all the scoring and we have a pretty balanced attack offensively,” Triplett said.
Triplett points out that eight different players have scored in double figures this year. Second on the team in scoring is Caprella with 10.4 points a contest and Elwer is third with a 9.9 scoring clip a game. O’Neal is averaging 8.9 points and Maxwell is chipping in 7 points a contest.
Elwer is the team leader in rebounds per game (7.9) and blocked shots (2.7). Justin Behnke is tops on the team in assists averaging 4.6 a came and steals at 2.0 a contest.
“We know we have different pieces that we can hit you with depending on the match-ups you are giving us and our bench has been very productive for us and shooting the ball pretty well. I think that it is finding what the defense is giving you and going with it.”
While the numbers tell the story of the team’s success on the court, it is the senior leadership Triplett adds that has been instrumental in the team’s development. Prior to the season, Triplett said if the team was going to be compete for a Western Buckeye League title and make a deep tournament run it would take unselfish plays and the seniors were on board from the get-go.
“Credit those guys (seniors) for welcoming those guys in,” Triplett said. “We just have a really talented sophomore class combined with a really talented senior class and guys fit together well. We only have a couple of healthy juniors…and all of them combined have really meshed well together.”
Triplett was confident the seniors were going be to unselfish but what concerned him was their ability to be vocal leaders on the court after the team graduated its most boisterous players from last year’s squad.
Triplett said the team is still improving and continues to work on its consistency on both ends of the courts.
“Offensively and defensively we struggle at times to communicate,” Triplett said. “We get caught behind some screens and not getting the ball stopped in transition which we are going to be playing some teams here that if you don’t stop the ball in transition it is going to get bad for your in a hurry.
Ottawa-Glandorf, ranked No. 8 in the state, is one of those teams and the Indians face them Friday night a big WBL showdown. The Titans comes into the game 10-2 and also unbeaten in league play at 4-0. The Titans are riding a 26-game unbeaten WBL streak.
Triplett said the approach to the game is the same, however, he understands the hype surrounding the game.
“I think we treat it as any other week,” Triplett said. “It is a big week but we talk about every game being a big game because we have been given the opportunity to go out and play big games. If we start the season poorly we the games from here on out isn’t such a big deal. I think we keep the same approach that we are trying to get better every day and focus on us and focusing on how we can get better and if you do that everything else takes care of itself..”