By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Seneca boys basketball program’s offseason was supposed to be comprised of showcasing the Indians’ evolution and maturation process.
Running and gunning with each trip down the hardwood, the chips were lining up for a run at a conference and district championship.
The team averaged 55 points per game last season, while allowing 49.
Defensively, the Indians forced 14 turnover per game.
But, in August, fate dealt the Indians a tough blow, as senior and offensive and defensive catalyst, Brennan Yust, went down — tearing his ACL — therefore — potentially bringing a sudden conclusion to his high-school playing career.
However, both Yust — who tallied 16.1 points and 12 rebounds per game last year — and his coach have high hopes for a February return, just in time for a deep postseason run.
“The average time for a return is six months. Well, that puts us at February, and we are done playing,” Seneca head coach Will King said, who enters his 16th season at the helm.
King has amassed an overall record of 216-192 during his tenure.
Gone are Gavin Clouse (all-conference honorable mention) and Payden Armstrong.
“He wasn’t a big scorer by any means, but boy, he was the glue that just did everything right,” King said of Clouse.
As for the departure of the elder Armstrong: “A high energy player that disrupted the other team with his quick instincts. He got a lot of easy, run-out buckets for us,” King said.
Armstrong drew 30 defensive charges last season and did the “dirty work” down low, King said.
However, the team returns four starting seniors this season: point guard Preston Armstrong (11 points per game); guard Isaiah Grotjohn (seven points per game, three rebounds, per game and 2.5 assists per game); forward Layne Henning (seven points per game and five rebounds per game); and Yust.
The four players accounted for 90 starts last season.
The Indians are rallying behind Yust — who had surgery August 27 — and has ratcheted up his physical therapy in order to attempt a February return.
“He had an amazing year last year,” King said of Yust. “From Brennan’s sophomore year to his junior year, I have never seen a player improve as much from one year to the next. He became a presence on both ends of the floor. He was a great defensive presence in the lane for us. He is ready to do all he can and hopes to be playing in February and, clearly, we will take him.”
The Indians went 18-10 last year and 4-2 in conference play (Big 8 West), before falling to 51-42 to Lamar in the Class 3 District 12 championship game.
Losing a top scorer and rebounder could impede a team’s ability to take the next step, but a galvanizing effort to rally around Yust has become the 2019-20 mantra for the Indians.
“Those four returning starters, they have played a lot of ball together. Even with Brennan out of the lineup now, those other three are great players. Now, we will be a different look.”
The offense shifts to a more spread attack this season — forcing the opposition to honor all corners of the court as well as in the paint.
Added King: “Preston, at the point, I think is one of the best in the area. [He] is super quick. I think we will spread things out a bit more and let get into the lane. Grotjohn and Henning hit big shots for us over and over. They can do a lot with the basketball.”
Grotjohn hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner to beat Mount Vernon during the district semifinals last season.
“We are not giving up. We are going to keep battling. We still have very good players,” King said.
The Indians open the season at the Clever Tournament (Dec. 2-7).
The home opener is Dec. 12-14 (Seneca Tournament).