Indian River basketball is back and quite possibly better than last year. That bodes well for the program, since they didn’t reach the conference tournament last season despite a 15-7 record.
Though top scorers Larry Bailey, Jeremy Sturgis and point guard Therman Hagans are gone – leaving Swingman Travis Irving and Jeremy Purnell as the lone returning starters — in their places are equally, if not more, talented ball players.
“We lost some guys, but I think we’re more talented this year,” said Irving.
“Our scoring will be more balanced,” added Head Coach Pat Kelly
Transfers Curtis Chandler and Morgan Hunt (Sussex Central and Tech, respectively) figure to play prominent roles in the Indians’ backcourt.
Chandler possesses the ball-handling ability to run the point guard position, the scoring ability to score from anywhere on the court and the explosiveness to take the ball to the basket. In two scrimmages against Pocomoke and Parkside (Nov. 23 and 29), Chandler scored 51 points on 17 of 25 shooting, hit four of give three-pointers and nailed 13 of 16 free-throws.
“Curtis is a good shooter,” said Kelly, “and having regular scorers like Chandler and Bell to pick up the slack helps.”
Hunt adds depth at the guard position, tough defense and a smart basketball IQ. In only one scrimmage, he netted two assists and five steals. Since then, though, he has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. And unfortunately that won’t be the only thing keeping Hunt off the hardwood. In addition to high school basketball, Hunt has conflicting commitments to club sports.
Bell is more of a slashing scorer who relies on his speed to get to the basket. In two scrimmages, Bell averaged 13 points and six steals.
Indian River is loaded with scorers but is a bit on the small side with Purnell as their only viable big man at 6 feet, 4 inches. At only 15 years old, Purnell is a man-child who can only improve throughout the season, just like his jump shot.
“J.P. (Purnell) is a better shooter,” said Kelly. “He took a hard spill against Bennett (Nov. 26), which made him a little hesitant tonight. (Purnell finished only 1-9 against Parkside on Nov. 29). He needs to work on his footwork. It would be scary if he had the footwork to drive to the basket.”
Just the same, Purnell will give the Indians a presence in the middle and potential for a double-double each night.Irving’s a lanky defender who’s active on the boards and the passing lanes which routinely gives opposing teams fits. Irving scored 10 points, snagged 13 rebounds and had five assists against Pocomoke. And he pulled down nine boards, five steals, two blocks, three assists and nine points against Parkside.
It appears that the Indians’ style of play is better suited for a high-tempo game that creates off turnovers and can get up and run.
“We run well,” noted Kelly, “but we’ve been too careless in these scrimmages. We’re going to have to get better defensively.”
“We’re definitely one of the quickest teams in the league,” added Hunt.
Indian River created 20 turnovers and off that was able to get out into fast-break opportunities.
Forward Miyo Castro got his first taste of varsity competition after spending last season on the junior varsity team and relished every moment. Castro made his biggest splash against Parkside, posting 10 points on 5-11 shooting. He also pulled down four rebounds, snared five steals and dished two assists.
With a team loaded with scorers, Castro knows his opportunities are limited but aggressive defense can help them win just the same.
“Honestly, we have a lot of guys who can score and I just want to play,” Castro said. “I’m so hyped when I’m out there that I use my quickness to make plays.”
Castro noted that, despite their lack of team size, their team speed may be better.
“Quickness is better than size because you can score more points with speed,” explained Castro.
Kelly also has Matt Williamson and freshman point guard Tyree Oliver to mix around in different lineups. Williamson saw about 15 minutes of action against Parkside and pulled down four rebounds and two steals. He will provide another low-post player that can flex out and shoot.
Oliver locked up the back-up point guard spot behind Chandler and figures to play a significant amount of minutes.
Seven or eight guys are good, according to Kelly, but one more would be perfect.
“Right now we need to develop our depth,” said Kelly. “I need one more guy that can do the little things. I have enough scorers; I need someone that can do everything else.”