A year ago, the Indian River High School boys’ basketball program was taken over by first-year head coach Devin Mann, with its sights set on rebuilding from the ground up with a bunch of fresh new faces.
The growing pains from a 3-17 campaign in 2019-2020 have helped the Indians gain some confidence as they head into a new year with three key returnees and a pair of newcomers who figure to help bring success to the season.
Gage Spinks, one of the team’s leading scorers last season, is back and ready to help take control of the IR offense. According to Mann, the 5-foot-8 senior guard put in a considerable amount of work in the offseason to prepare for this year. Spinks received honorable-mention accolades for the Henlopen Athletic Conference a year ago, and will serve as one of the team’s captains this year.
“Gage has worked tremendously in the offseason to prepare for his senior year,” confirmed Mann. “He wants to lead this team to surprise a few people, and if we buy in, he may be able to do that.”
The start of actual game-action this season was delay by more than a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mann is hoping that the extra practice time will allow his squad to build a competitive attitude and hit the ground running out of the gate when they hit the hardwoods on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
“This season is about us competing,” Mann said. “Last year, there were times I felt we didn’t really compete. We would back down to competition, whether that be based on opponent size, athleticism, how hard they played or other factors.
“This year is about us focusing more on our effort and competing, versus what other teams are doing or what they look like. We are working on being tougher and more mentally strong. Three main things we are focusing on are turnovers, rebounding and defense. If we can improve those three areas, we improve as a team, and it will reflect in box scores and our overall record.”
Along with Spinks, the Indians will welcome the return of senior Willem Lambertson (5’9”/guard) — fresh off helping the IR boys’ soccer team to a state championship — as well as junior Joshua Townsend (6’2”/forward).
Lucas Weber is going to be the big man inside that the Indians lacked last year after he had to sit out due to a knee injury suffered during football season. The 6-foot-5 senior will be a welcome addition to the defense, as well as providing an edge on the glass.
“Having Willem Lambertson healthy to begin our year is big for us,” acknowledged Mann. “When he returned from injury last year for the last four games, he helped us to stop turning the ball over, and also provided shooting to space the floor with additional scoring. Also, the size addition of Lucas Weber will help us tremendously on defense. If he can anchor what we want to do, it will make things easier for everybody else around him.”
Brendon Bradford is a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard who is also looking to be counted on as a key newcomer for the Green & Gold.
Because of the delayed start, all games for IR this season will be against their HAC South Division rivals, with the season consisting of a 14-game schedule, versus a normal 20-game slate.
The Indians will open their season on the road at Sussex Academy on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 4:30 p.m. It is the first of three straight taking place away from their home confines. They will travel to Delmar on Thursday, Jan. 14, to take on the Wildcats at 6:30 p.m.
They won’t open at home until a 6:30 p.m. tip-off against Woodbridge on Thursday, Jan. 21. Six of their last seven games will be at home, which could be an added benefit as they hope to compete for a South Division crown.
The South Division consists of IR, Sussex Academy, Delmar, Lake Forest, Woodbridge, Laurel, Seaford and Early College High School.
Tentatively, there is talk of a potential HAC conference championship game to be played, pitting the North Division winner against the South Division winner after the season is over, but that is still in preliminary discussion at this point.