The East Newton boys saw a marked improvement last year going from 7-20 two years ago to 11-14 last year.
“Our improvement was largely due to a lot of returning players who understood what we were trying to accomplish, as well as the arrival of talented freshmen Connor Killion and Lucas Kimbrough,” head coach Ethan Baker said. “Our returning players having a year in our system as well as me having a full year of coaching experience under my belt I think gave us a comfort level that wasn’t there the year before.”
The Patriots lost three players to graduation including Dustin McDermott, Caleb Jackson and Dalton Moore.
Connor Killion and Lucas Kimbrough do return for their sophomore seasons after stellar debut campaigns as freshmen.
Killion, who stands at six-foot-four, scored 11.4 points per game while pulling down 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 steals. He knocked down 70 threes in his first season and looks ready to expand his game as a sophomore.
“Over the off-season Connor has worked hard to make his game better-rounded. As a freshman he was able to impact the game mostly as a spot up shooter, but in his sophomore year we are looking for him to become a play maker,” Baker said.
Kimbrough scored 8.1 points per game to go with 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game. His season was cut short due to an ankle injury, but he is back healthy this year.
“Lucas is a total gym rat. He is very serious about the game and his performance,” Baker said. “He was on his way to capping off a good freshman season when he injured his ankle. After rehabbing in the spring, he was able to have a great summer with us as well as his AAU club.”
The senior trio of Bryce Chambers, Davis Turner and Colton Ball all return after starting much of the past two seasons.
Ball led that group with 7.5 points per game. He is working to recover from an injury to get back on the court for his senior season.
Chambers will be looked to for an increased role as a senior.
“Bryce has been on varsity each of the past two years. He is a very good mid-range shooter and is a high IQ player,” Baker said. “We will be looking for him to have an increase in his rebounding production this year. Bryce is someone that will own his role and be a leader for us.”
Tanner Youngblood will get a much bigger varsity role as a sophomore after seeing limited minutes there last year. He had nine points and eight rebounds in East Newton’s district game against Stockton.
Junior Austin Brewster and sophomore Kyson Lahman will also step up to the varisty level this year.
Offense will be a strength for the Patriots in 2018-19.
“I think that our strength this year will be our offensive skill level. From season one to season two here at East Newton we increased our pace by adding seven possessions a game and increased our scoring output by 15 points per game. I believe that we have even more skill on offense this year than we have had the previous two years while still emphasizing our fast pace from last year. So I believe that we will be able to put points up on the board,” Baker said.
While the offense is a strong suit, Baker will look for his team to lock down on defense. The Patriots lost two games last year while scoring at least 84 points.
“Last year we managed to score 84 and 89 points in games and lose. That is hard to do in high school basketball. We have to become hard-nosed defenders. It’s something that we have to take pride in and emphasize if we are going to be able to take the next step as a team. It’s my job to make sure that we improve in that area specifically,” Baker said.
East Newton’s schedule has increased in difficulty this year with the expansion of the Big 8 Conference.
“We were already one of the smaller Big 8 schools prior to the realignment, so when you look at the new schools brought in, it’s an even bigger obstacle now,” Baker said. “With that said, I believe that we are embracing the challenge. We have already added a few schools from the East to our schedule, which will add strength to our schedule.”
Baker will look for his Patriots to build on their momentum from last season.
“My expectation this season is that we continue to develop. I think we are set up nicely for the future with the pieces we have if we can continue to improve every year. With that said, if we embrace the hard work, establish a defensive identity, and continue to attack on offense with pace, I believe that we could be a team that competes with any team on our schedule,” Baker said.
East Newton opens the season on Nov. 20 at home against Clever.