There’s a new era of basketball at Indian River High School this season, stocked with fresh faces — two transfers and three freshmen.
Indian River saw its top three scorers — Curtis Chandler, Travis Irving and Brian Bell — respectively transfer back to Sussex Central after a one-year stint as an Indian, graduate or stop attending Indian River. That leaves junior big man Jeremy Purnell and sophomore point guard Tyree Oliver as the only returning players on this year’s team.
Though the outlook for the Indians might seem bleak with so many accomplished basketball players leaving the reservation, there are players to pick up the slack, leaving little, if any, drop-off from last year’s 12-11 team.
Head coach Pat Kelly has confidence that sophomore guard Jamar Manuel is just as good a scorer as any that have come out of Indian River in recent years and that their transfers, along with a host of freshmen, can contribute significant numbers. But it’s going to be a growing process.
“I’m looking for Jamar to have a very good year,” Kelly said. “He needs to learn some of the finer points of playing defense, but he’ll certainly continue the tradition we’ve had here of someone who can get to the basket.”
“He reminds me a lot of Antonio Jones, who was an All-Conference player in the ’80s,” Kelly continued. “He doesn’t have the same hopes Jones did, but he has the same uncanny knack for getting to the basket.”
Manuel averaged about 20 points per game in the Indians’ junior varsity program last year.
Manuel joins Oliver to round out the starting backcourt, but with all the new players — especially young players who have joined the team — that will give them the possibility of going three or four guards at a time.
Freshmen Deshawn Goodwin and Keon Sturgis give Kelly two quick, aggressive guard-type athletes to fit into the rotation and 6-foot, 3-inch fellow freshman Montre Andrews could push for time.
“I’m not playing any favorites,” Kelly affirmed. “If someone’s not running the court then I’m going to put someone in that will, and Andrews does the little things.”
“He’s not real strong but I can see him improve every day,” Kelly said. “This kid will be one of the better players in the state when he’s a junior.”
Kelly’s trio of freshman and the talent they bring to the table reminded him of the teams that brought so much success to Indian River in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“This is the start of a program,” Kelly said. “These freshman stayed with us to learn the game at Indian River,” he added of their decision not to choose other schools.
“When we won 18 and 22 games in 1989 and 1990, we had freshmen come in to build those teams, and I think that the kids we have now can have that kind of success,” Kelly said.
In addition to the youngsters, Kelly also received two senior transfers to help fill the void left by Chandler, Irving and Bell.
Forward Drew Gibbons gives the Indians a versatile big man who can dribble, shoot and rebound, and Preston Irving from Stephen Decatur should push for time at the guard position.
“Our chemistry must get better, but that will come in time,” Kelly said. “Right now we’re looking for the younger kids to step up, run the floor, listen and progress. It’s going to be a day-to-day process.”
Indian River will kick off its regular season at home on Dec. 5 against the Smyrna Eagles and their dynamic scoring duo of Darnell Cephas and Kevin Johnson.
Last year, Cephas and Johnson were top-10 in the state in scoring and scored 25.7 and 21.3 points per game, respectively.