FRANKLIN, Ind. – With a veteran roster that returns every letter winner from a year ago, the Franklin men's basketball team is looking to pick up where they left off last February when the regular season tips off this weekend.
The Grizzlies welcome back all five starters from last year's club and another five players that saw important minutes coming off the bench. Franklin advanced to the semifinals of the HCAC Tournament last winter, winning eight of their last 10 games en route to their deepest post-season run in a decade.
When practice opened in October, there was plenty of excitement surrounding the team as they get set to embark on a new season. And for the players, they haven't felt like the team has missed a beat since their run ended last season.
"Every day has been fun so far," Head coach Kerry Prather said "In the first few days of practice, one of our veterans noted that it felt like we hadn't lost a beat since the last game in February. And that's where we want to be as things get going."
The Grizzlies will trot out what is arguably the most experienced team in the conference. Seniors Kale Morris, Jordan Anderson, Borden Kennedy and Kyle Meyer are joined by juniors Sam Gutierrez, Danny Goggans, Payton Mills and Ismail Jones as major minutes-eaters over the last two seasons. Sophomore Matt Krause joins the group as a regular contributor with classmates Bennie Patterson, Lukas Swan and Colin York aiming to take a step forward in their second seasons.
Throw in a deep group of newcomers in Ryan Mansbarger, Carter Crowe, Jack Hawkins, Ryan Wiggins and Tate Balcam and the Grizzlies will have plenty of options to turn to when the season gets going. But it all starts with the upper-classmen that have set a standard for the upcoming year both on and off the floor.
"We can have conversations in practice and expectations in practice that are so much more advanced than you can have with a crop of young guys," Prather added. "Having so many players that have been through the battles and played a lot of minutes allows us to do that. The other thing is we're not in a position that we have been the last few years of expecting freshmen to come in and do things that freshmen might struggle with. It's a win-win in that aspect."
The familiarity with the system and lack of turnover should help the Grizzlies pick up where they left off to close out last year. Franklin averaged 82.1 points over the final 10 games, shooting 45.1% from three while holding opponents to under 30% from behind the arc. Five players averaged double-digit points down the stretch, with Morris and Kennedy sitting at 17 points per game.
To repeat that success, the Grizzlies know they will have to bring their best at both ends of the floor each night, turning strong defensive efforts into points at the other end of the floor.
"Defensively, you're never 100% satisfied but we were good defensively in November last year and the offense eventually caught up," Prather noted. "We can't get complacent in that area because it helps us get out on the break. We want to be aggressive but disciplined on offense and that's a hard thing to do. That has been a challenge for our offense and at the end of the day, you must make shots. The fact that guys have really worked at it from the end of the year and over the summer has us way ahead of where we have been the last few years."
"From day one I have zero to be concerned about when it comes to our effort," Prather continued. "I keep trying to tell myself not to make this March because we still have a lot of improvements to make. But watching in our practices and scrimmages, we're miles ahead of where we have been when we have started in recent years."
The time for the Grizzlies to put their hard work to the test comes on Saturday, Nov. 9, when they travel to Ohio to take on the Otterbein Cardinals. Tip-off is set for 3:00 p.m.