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Thursday, November 23, 2017

2017-18 Highlands Boys Basketball Preview

Bluebirds Continue to Build Positive Culture

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Tyler Gulley (33) goes in for the score in the inter-squad scrimmage Saturday. Gulley could give the Bluebirds solid play in the paint this year.
Fifth-year Head Coach Kevin Listerman proudly stated these players have been fun to coach.

The hope is that translates into a fun team to watch once the games roll around. Listerman and staff saw the Highlands Bluebird boys basketball team make some strides in a great direction last year in a 12-17 campaign. That marked the first time since the 2012-13 season that the Bluebirds reached double-digits in the win column and earned the second seed in the 36th District Tournament marking the highest seeding since Listerman took over in 2013.

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"It's not just about a positive atmosphere. It's just building culture and that takes time," Listerman said. "These kids have been four years now and they only know the culture that we have brought in and I think that's a big thing. We have spent a lot of time over the summer talking about and committing ourselves to our creed. I think that we have a high level of buy-in with our kids. They understand what we're going to ask them to do and how important each other are to the process. I think all of those things combined will give us a chance to be much more successful than what we've been."

Unfortunately, Highlands could not make it back to the 9th Region Tournament for the first time since 2014. The Bluebirds finished the season with a four-game losing streak losing 73-50 to the Newport Wildcats in the 36th District semifinals at Dayton.

Gone from that team are six seniors. The biggest absence will be post Kyle Finfrock, who averaged nearly a double-double with 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Finfrock is playing football at nearby Thomas More College.

The other five seniors to graduate are Luke LaFrange, Bryce Traylor, Morgan Race, Brent Angel and Bradley Greene. Last year's starting point guard in Braden Posey along with his brother Aubrey Posey transferred to Newport Central Catholic.

But Highlands does return two starters from last year in senior guard 5-foot-11-inch guard Jacob Noe and senior 6-2 forward Griffin Huber. Noe is the team's leading returning scorer at 6.7 points per game. Huber is the team's leading returning rebounder with 84 for an average of three per game.

Huber hoped to help pick up Finfrock's scoring along with junior 6-4 forward Ben Sisson. Sisson is out still nursing a football injury and hopes to be back by late December. But Highlands may have found an answer in the paint with a 6-4 senior transfer from Pennsylvania in center Tyler Gulley. Junior 6-5 Jake Schneider and 6-3 sophomore Jack Delagrange could also battle for time there.

"The post game in general is huge," Huber said. "If you lack a big man, that's going to be trouble down low. But with Tyler coming over in the summer, it's great. He's a force down low. He can catch it and back down on his own. But once he catches it once or twice, people crash. The shooter gets open and he kicks it out. It helps the (offensive) flow go so much better."

Listerman said as many as 18 players could dress for varsity on game night. The Bluebirds have three other seniors with varsity experience in guards Robby Gabbard (6-1), Carl Schoellman (5-11) and forward Adam Uhlenbrock (6-2). They could give the Bluebirds consistency from the outside. Highlands has struggled in recent years to put together things on both ends from both the inside and outside consistently.

"We have a lot of question marks, but we have some talented question marks," Listerman said. "We've got some size, particularly on the perimeter that we haven't really had that make us better defensively and give us some athleticism in those spots."

When he took the job in 2013, Listerman said he preferred to be an up-tempo team and the Bluebirds may have the depth to do that more this year. Junior forward Alex Starkey (6-1) also returns with varsity experience.

"I think this is finally a team where we have a group that can play fast," Listerman said. "I think it'll allow us to play to some of our strengths. If you're going to commit to run, you have commit to doing it. So far, I've been very pleased with what we've done. We'll see what happens when we go against live action very soon."

Eight more juniors could also play for playing time. They are guards Nate Roberts (6-2), Jack Hegge (6-1), Austin King (6-1), Spencer Macke (6-1), Ryan Leigh (6-1), forwards Tristan Thompson (6-0), Will Salmon (6-0) and Casey Greene (5-11).

Four more sophomores and a pair from the talented freshman class could give the Bluebirds depth. The sophomores are guards Kyle Hunter (5-10), Jacob Brass (5-9), Hunter Ahlfeld (6-1) and 6-5 forward Isaac Salter. Two freshmen who could push the upperclassmen are guards Cam Hergott (6-0) and Sam Vinson (5-10).

"Depth helps us when we're tired," Noe said. "It helps us when we're on a roll because we have more people who can score. It adds up to more points."

Opponents outscored the Bluebirds, 1,808-1,768 last year. Highlands made 613-of-1,309 shots last year for 47 percent including 178-of-460 from three-point range for 39 percent. The Bluebirds also grabbed 798 rebounds as a team.

The Bluebirds hope to shoot free throws better this year. They made just 304-of-509 attempts last year for just under 60 percent.

Highlands opens at home against Covington Holmes on Nov. 28. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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