By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – The orange, in reference to Bedford North Lawrence’s wrung-out season, was squeezed dry, until nothing of value remained. Every drop, every jot and tittle of effort and talent was extracted and maximized.
When the Stars, who just hung up the uniforms and deflated the basketballs following the conclusion of the 2021-22 campaign, evaluate the 11-win season, they will come to a satisfying conclusion: they gave everything they had. The effort, intensity and toughness of a team with shortcomings could not be questioned.
BNL coach Jeff Hein, now with three years at the helm of the program, refused to use the label “rebuilding” when the season started. But that was reality. The Stars had lost three starters and a handful of seniors from the prior run to the sectional final, had only one senior on the current roster, had nobody with experience over 6-foot-2, and the best player started the year on the sideline while finishing recovery from knee surgery. If Hein had been told 11 wins were possible, he would have secured the predictor a room in Arkham Asylum. Surely the Joker jests.
So it’s a testament to making the most of what was available. The Stars finished with their first losing record since 2016-17, but there were plenty of highlights and promising signs for the uncertain future.
“I think we had a good year,” Hein said. “I knew we would be young, I knew we would be small. We had some issues with injuries, and we were so undersized.
“I didn’t want to say it, but it was a rebuilding year. I don’t like having rebuilding years. But when you have only one senior on a team, that’s what you have. Hopefully we learned a lot from this year and we can carry that on, be a better team in the future.”
Before peering forward, here’s what BNL leaves in its wake.
First, some quality wins, most notably the 48-40 victory over Bloomington North (avenging a road loss to the Cougars in the opener) and the 60-48 road triumph over New Albany. Second, some quality performances, most notably the 36-point explosion by Colten Leach (against Evansville North), the 31-point night by Leach against Brownstown, and the 25-point eruption by Colton Staggs against Eastern Greene.
Leach, who missed the first three games following his second knee surgery and needed a few more games to hit his stride once he returned, finished as the leading scorer (15.1) and rebounder (7.5, with a career-high 16 at New Albany), while Staggs totaled 13.6. Those two set the tone as BNL averaged a minuscule 9.1 turnovers, quite remarkable considering the style of attack.
Other notable numbers came from Kaedyn Bennett (8.2 points despite missing five games with a concussion, topped by 15 points in the sectional against Jeffersonville) and Jett Jones (14 points against Mitchell).
“The biggest bugaboo was our offense wasn’t very good,” Hein said. “Our defense was solid (allowing 48.9 points). I can’t complain about the defense, but our offense has a long way to go, because we didn’t have the true inside scorer, and that pushed us out on the floor a lot more.
Now some numbers that need work. The Stars shot only 40 percent as a team, averaging only 48.6 points per game. Part of the low output can be attributed to BNL’s spread, patient offense, which put the ball in the hands of Leach and Staggs as they probed and penetrated. Part of that can be credited to BNL’s lack of a post presence.
“I’d love to play faster. It depends on who we’re playing and what we can do. Our kids adjusted to that well and adapted. If we had run and gun every night, we would not have been as competitive. We had to pick the tempo that fits us, pick our times to do it, picks our games to do that. We were able to slow some games down and give ourselves a chance, and that resulted in some wins. That was our best chance. We won some big games.
“There were nights we struggled to rebound, there were nights we struggled to shoot the ball. A lot of that had to do with a lack of inside play. We didn’t have a true post player. That would have opened up things on the perimeter, and we weren’t able to do that all year.”
So that will be BNL’s starting point, finding interior force. The Stars only lose senior reserve Dylan Endris, which means the starting lineup (including sophomore Trace Rynders at 5.4 points per game) returns intact, which means the bulk of the scoring and rebounding will be back. While the Stars didn’t go very deep into the bench, there are potential contributors from the junior varsity, perhaps even a successful freshmen squad, that could create competition for playing time. The June scrimmages and camps will be crucial for those decisions.
“The good thing is we’re all back next year, for the most part,” Hein said. “Hopefully we can find a few more kids with ability, whether it’s off the junior varsity or the freshman team, anybody that can provide some size and strength inside.”
BNL is still chasing the first sectional title since 2001. When looking at the rosters of the sectional opponents at Seymour, graduation will demand a heavy price on almost every program except BNL – although the future site and class designation for the Stars could be altered. The IHSAA is discussing a possible move to five classes, and BNL’s enrollment is shrinking.
“Who knows? Will they go to five classes?” Hein said. “I have no idea. It could happen. So there could be some dynamics that change.”
Hein is now 40-33 in his three seasons at BNL, with a combined record of 335-239 in 25 years overall.
BEDFORD NL STARS (11-12)
3s (Pct.) FGs (Pct.) FTs (Pct.) Reb (Avg.) Pts. (Avg.)
Kaedyn Bennett 31-95 (.326) 51-126 (.404) 12-20 (.600) 47 (2.6) 147 (8.2)
Jett Jones 10-37 (.270) 32-81 (.395) 5-11 (.455) 75 (3.3) 80 (3.5)
Colton Staggs 25-73 (.342) 104-263 (.395) 76-103 (.738) 61 (2.7) 312 (13.6)
Trace Rynders 34-106 (.321) 41-116 (.353) 8-17 (.471) 51 (2.2) 124 (5.4)
Dylan Nikirk 1-5 (.200) 7-23 (.304) 8-13 (.615) 14 (0.7) 23 (1.2)
Colten Leach 4-15 (.267) 120-247 (.486) 58-84 (.690) 150 (7.5) 302 (15.1)
Kole Bailey 6-26 (.231) 27-62 (.435) 22-29 (.759) 49 (2.2) 82 (3.7)
Dylan Endris 0-0 (.000) 4-9 (.444) 4-5 (.800) 12 (1.0) 10 (0.8)
Memphis Louden 0-0 (.000) 1-1 (1.000) 0-0 (.000) 1 (0.1) 2 (0.2)
Quincy Pickett 3-9 (.333) 3-11 (.273) 0-0 (.000) 4 (0.4) 9 (0.9)
Maddox Ray 0-0 (.000) 4-10 (.400) 3-8 (.375) 7 (0.6) 9 (0.8)
Houston Corbin 0-2 (.000) 3-7 (.428) 2-3 (.667) 8 (1.3) 8 (1.3)
Cruz Sanchez 0-1 (.000) 1-3 (.333) 0-2 (.000) 1 (0.2) 2 (0.4)
Logan Miracle 0-0 (.000) 1-2 (.500) 0-1 (.000) 0 (0.0) 2 (0.7)
Totals 115-368 (.313) 391-968 (.404) 201-294 (.684) 538 (23.4) 1118 (48.6)