By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – A sure sign, perhaps the most true-Hoosier indication, of life approaching normalcy: fans flocking to a sweat-box gymnasium to watch basketball. In June. Games that are completely meaningless, except to the participants. Only in Indiana.
The official first day of summer was the final day of Bedford North Lawrence’s off-season scrimmages and practice sessions, and the Stars finished off an important month of growth and improvement with omens that both took place. While missing two key players, BNL took positives strides forward as head coach Jeff Hein makes plans for his third season with the program.
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, BNL was allowed to practice four times and did not travel to compete against any outside forces. Never again, after a 2020-21 regular season that included a mid-season stoppage for a virus shutdown, will that simple act be taken for granted. The Stars can now appreciate what they have, before it turns into what they had. We usually don’t know what we have until we lose it.
Winning is the goal, of course, but Hein couldn’t help but feel like winning was accomplished when the Stars took 34 players on the road for a busy month.
“Just watching them have fun as a group together, it’s some normalcy back in life after last summer,” Hein said. “It was great to have summer basketball again after missing it a year ago. Watching our guys have fun together, and have the ability to play in front of loud crowds again was great. Those are things we once took for granted but appreciate even more now.”
BNL did have success to get loud about. The Stars were missing returning veterans Colten Leach (out indefinitely after suffering a second knee injury in May) and Kaedyn Bennett (injured right hand), had only one senior (Dylan Endris) on the travel roster, yet still displayed talent. The varsity went 12-4 before finishing third in the team camp tournament at Rose-Hulman. The junior varsity won two tournaments (including going 5-0 in the Salem Shootout) and the incoming freshmen finished runner-up in the 18-team Martinsville Showdown and won their tournament at Rose-Hulman.
“Wins and losses don’t matter a whole lot, but we had success, especially without two of our better players,” Hein said. “I think that gives our younger kids confidence, that they can step in there, that they can play. They had to learn on the fly a little bit, but they competed and did a great job.
“We had plenty of court time (playing over 25 games), but more importantly we practiced 10-12 times, which is what we got the most out of, with the teaching. And we did a lot of bonding. We only had one senior show up this summer, so we’re going to rely heavily on lower classes to fill the numbers. The competition is there.”
Leach, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL to his left knee during the 2020 sectional, went down again with the same injury to the same knee during an AAU tournament in May. His status, depending on the speed of his rehabilitation, for the opener of the 2021-22 campaign is now questionable. That’s a big blow when the returning scoring leader (14.0 points), rebounder and assist man could be sidelined.
But BNL will not be without talent, even though it will be underclassmen in the spotlight. Colton Staggs, who stepped into the starting lineup in the second half of last year and averaged 6.1 points overall, shouldered a lot this month and thrived. Anyone else that wants a varsity position, this is the chance to prove it. Hit the weights, hit the court.
“Staggs picked up where he left off the last half of the season, and he had a great summer,” Hein said. “We’re filling other spots with kids that haven’t played much varsity basketball – if any. We looked at a lot of different combinations, pieced together what we had. It seemed every place we went, we had a different lineup, and that’s fine. You want to see those different combinations. That enabled some kids to step up and play, so we got a lot done.”
The other factor will be the impact of the freshman class, potentially a strong group. Hein is eager to chart their growth curve. And, as he’s proven in the past, he’s not adverse to playing young athletes.
“It’s a good group of kids who have played a lot,” Hein said. “They learned about the intensity it takes on the defensive end. We have a long way to go defensively with some of them, but there are several skilled players.”
BNL will reconvene for open gym workouts and practices after Labor Day. Then the countdown will begin for the start of official workouts for the 2021-22 season on Nov. 8 and the opener at Bloomington North on Nov. 23.