Cats want old toughness from new unit

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Austin Alles, right, returns as the top scorer for a Jasper boys basketball team that was stripped of most of its experience and scoring punch with the loss of five seniors from last year’s sectional runner-up squad that finished 13-10. The Wildcats retool with a deep and youthful roster that will be put to the test starting with tonight’s season opener on the road at Evansville Harrison.

Herald Sports Editor

If the Jasper boys basketball team can meld something old with something new, the Wildcats sense they might have a good thing going.

It just might take a while to get there. As in, a seriously good chunk of time.

Monday afternoon, little more than 24 hours before Jasper deploys its season tonight at Evansville Harrison, Jasper coach John Goebel still wasn’t sure who would compose the starting five for the season opener. Options aren’t the issue; if anything, there’s an overflow of those as the Cats could field two varsity teams with the 17 players that have a crack at the varsity lineup this season.

As of now, Goebel said, the Cats need time to develop a flow within a roster that’s largely barren of experience. In time, Jasper could contend with talent thanks to the influx of a talented and mammoth sophomore class. But to keep up in the interim, the Cats want to channel the shining quality of what made last year’s Jasper team tick.

“Last year’s group won 13 games because they bought into the idea that if they were going to be successful, they had to defend and rebound and be physical, and we haven’t had that yet in practice here,” said Goebel, entering his seventh season at Jasper. “We have some kids that can score some points, but we haven’t really showed the ability to have the physicality and determination to be a good defensive team. If we ever turn the corner and realize the significance of defense and get a little bit more physical, and just get physically and mentally tougher, we can be a very competitive team. But we’re not there yet.”

The process was paused by Jasper’s recent run to the football regional, and the Wildcats have had just five practices together with their complete unit. Friday’s scrimmage against Evansville Mater Dei may have best encapsulated Jasper’s current state as “we made a lot of mistakes and we weren’t very sharp fundamentally, but we competed hard,” Goebel said.


Goebel said he wouldn’t mind undergoing the “problem” every year of receiving his football players fresh off sampling postseason football success. And that’s the case with the top four holdovers in hoops. Bullish 6-foot-3 junior Austin Alles (5 ppg) started nearly every game last season, while 6-2 senior Philip Huebschman (1.9) also returns to the frontcourt. Their roles now increase, and ditto for the backcourt of senior Courtland Betz (4.1) and junior Nolan Ahrens.

Junior Tyler Begle offers a perimeter shooting threat, and forwards Kyle McWilliams, a senior, and Rhiley Eckert, a junior, round out the upperclassmen.

The distribution of labor should be eased this year, noted Goebel, who recognized the cumulative stress placed upon last year’s seniors to play 27 or 28 minutes per game. That’s no longer necessary.

“I anticipate our starting lineup to change on a regular basis, and I anticipate the number of minutes played by each of our varsity guys to change game to game based on production, because unlike the last couple years, we do have options, we do have some people that we can turn to if someone’s not getting the job done,” Goebel said.

Goebel could be exploring the outer reaches of his bench with the arrival of a ballyhooed sophomore class. If nothing else, the group can attract notice through sheer size alone.

Four sophomores already have burrowed their way into the opening-day roster: guards Hunter Gossett and Craig Shepherd plus 6-5 forward Peyton Gentry and 6-2 frontliner Alex Allen. Freshman guard Tyler Nottingham has also worked his way into contention for minutes. Forwards Luke Foster, Grant Theil and Luke Sermersheim plus guards Cal Krueger and Justin Goebel complete the army of possible contributors as part of a class of players whose heritage of winning now starts to get put to the varsity test.

“They have had success all the way through, so we’re just hoping they take the next step and have success at the varsity level, too. But that’s tough,” John Goebel said. “You put sophomores and freshmen in a varsity basketball game, there’s always a learning curve. The jury’s still out on how good they can actually be at this level. We’ve had groups come through before that have had success at the lower levels and didn’t develop quite the way they had hoped. We’re hoping this group, their experience combined with their athleticism, can provide some pretty good things for us.”

As Betz sees it, one thing the Cats are initially fighting is the temptation to operate too fast at practice so as to accelerate the experience-gathering process and compensate for the time missed for the delayed start. When it comes to the fleet of players who could potentially find themselves in the fold, though, “we’ve got a lot of guys competing, and it’s good to have,” Betz said.

“It’s definitely going to take some work, but it’s going to be really exciting this year,” Betz added. “I think we have some pretty good shooters and then some big men, too. We have a pretty balanced team and a lot of quick guys, and I think we’ll be all right.”

Eventually, the question will become how a fledging lineup and an always-rugged schedule plays into Jasper’s end game. The last two years, the Wildcats have seized two opening-round sectional wins before being dismissed by rival Vincennes Lincoln in the sectional championship.

Jasper last won a sectional in 2002, but for now, any such long-term pursuits are being tabled. It’s not that the Cats aren’t capable of blossoming into a winning bunch — they just require time to begin sculpting the identity.

“We do feel like we have the potential to be a pretty good basketball team this year. But obviously, when you say somebody has potential, that means they’re not good yet,” Goebel said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we’re cautiously optimistic, I guess is the best way to explain it. But we feel good about them, as far as being basketball players. We just need them to turn into men now.”

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