John Hartnett Jr. has to find a way to protect electric scorer Ollie Sandman.
Now a senior, Sandman averaged 20.5 ppg last season for a Golden Bears squad that finished 5-18. He is on a quest in his final season to become just the 10th Golden Bear to break 1,000 career points.
“We’ve had multiple conversations about what this year will look like,” said Hartnett Jr., now in his fourth season as head coach. “He wants to play at the next level and go out with a bang this year. We want to make it the best year possible.”
The six-foot, two-inch shooting guard already has several small school offers but wants to let his senior season play out to maximize his collegiate opportunities.
“He is going to leave (his decision) open right now,” said Hartnett Jr. “He wants some coaches to come watch him play his senior year so there is no decision soon.”
For Sandman to repeat his junior season success, he will need some familiar faces to continue to improve. Seniors Jackson Parker and Aidan Asher and juniors Luke Brinkman (main photo) and Ethan Lambert bring experience to the varsity level.
As many as three freshmen could be in the varsity mix, including point guard Caden Claxton (5-9), who will likely be in the starting lineup tonight when the Golden Bears open the season at Rushville.
“(Caden) is clearly the second best scorer in the program,” said Hartnett Jr. “The kid can really shoot it. He has put on 30 pounds since the start of summer and he has worked really hard.”
Freshmen Jack West (6-1) and Cole Schene (6-2) will keep the Shelbyville roster youthful.
With Jakob Heaton (12.4 ppg) and Nolyn Smothers (7.6 ppg) lost to graduation, Brinkman, a 5-10 guard who averaged 4.5 ppg, and Parker, a 6-2 forward who averaged 3.9 ppg, are the two leading returning scorers after Sandman.
“Parker has that long, athletic body that can guard bigger, stronger guys,” said Hartnett Jr.
Brinkman scored 28 points in Shelbyville’s first two games last season then struggled to knock down shots consistently.
“He’s been in the gym a lot working on being a shooter,” said Hartnett Jr.
Lambert (photo), a 6-2 forward, saw limited varsity action last season and will join Asher, a 5-11 guard, as the energetic sparkplugs of the program.
“Asher is a motor guy. He doesn’t stop,” said Hartnett Jr. “He plays well defensively and is one of our best rebounders.”
Sophomore Damon Badgley (6-2 guard) earned a pair of late starts last season after Sandman suffered a season-ending ankle injury at East Central. He will expand his role with the varsity this year along with junior Kohen Myers (6-3 forward) and senior Riley Fortune (6-1 forward).
“We have more scorers, more guys that can be contributors to take the pressure off Sandman’s shoulders so he doesn’t have to get 25 points every night,” said Hartnett Jr. (photo) “We have more of a team this year than last year. It’s a very solid group.”
Sandman starts the season with 643 career points after scoring 410 last season.
Shelbyville has produced three consecutive sub-.500 seasons. A 2-0 start in the opening week would help take the pressure off a squad relying on younger players.
After traveling to Rushville Wednesday, Shelbyville hosts Triton Central Saturday at William L. Garrett Gymnasium. Three games follow against programs that won a combined 49 games last season.
The Golden Bears host Connersville on Dec. 3, travel to New Castle Dec. 9 and host Whiteland Dec. 10.
The program has won 39 sectional titles, tied for 25th most all-time in the state of Indiana, but has not celebrated with a postseason trophy since 2001.
The Golden Bears are part of Class 4A, Sectional 14 this season which includes Columbus East, Columbus North, East Central, Franklin and Whiteland.
Steve Bush photos
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