Boys Basketball Looks to Improve Despite Key Losses

Sam Findley and Micah Robertson

It’s not typical that you lose your County Player of the Year in basketball to early enrollment for Tennessee Football, but as the Trojans prepare for the season, Tayven Jackson won’t be on head coach Zach Hahn’s roster. 

In addition to the loss of Jackson’s offensive abilities, the Trojans will need to replace All-County point guard Landin Hacker, sharpshooter Charlie Bemis, Wabash big man Ethan Jones and defensive specialist Mason Long, who all graduated in May.

Returning players to Watch: 

Marcus Ankney | Marcus Ankney was a strong offensive piece for the Trojans in his sophomore year, starting the whole season when healthy. In a crowded offense, it is possible Ankney never got to flash his true offensive colors with the guard, often an afterthought in the Jackson, Hacker, and Jones dominated offense. 

Ankney’s ability to hit shots from deep, in the lane and off the dribble will be vital to a Trojans’ offense that lost two-thirds of their total scoring. Hahn knows that Ankney may have the ability to make his mark in the offensive game. 

“The past two years we played him at shooting guard because we felt we had two other guys who could make plays for us a little bit better, but through hard work this offseason, being in better shape, being stronger, a lot of reps shooting the ball, I think he can be an elite-level scorer for us,” Hahn said. “I think he can score at all three. I think he can make threes off screens,  he can make threes off a ball screen, he can finish with floaters in the paint and pull up jumpers. The biggest transition for him will be getting all the way to the rim and finishing. That’s the next step for him that we need to see him take.”

Tyler Cerny | Tyler Cerny cut out a role for himself last season on the defensive end with forcing 16 steals and grabbing 10 50/50 balls, the most of any returning player. Cerny’s role wasn’t without flaw, shooting 32.9% from three, 35.3% from the field, and 72.7% at the line, which will need to be improved upon to have a positive impact on both ends of the court. 

If Cerny can maintain his dominant defensive abilities, the Trojans will have a 6’4” wing who can match up against guards and forwards alike, and if Cerny can improve his offense, the Trojans would add another two-way player to their arsenal. 

“Being one of the four returning seniors, the roles are going to get a lot bigger this year. I’m going to have to be more of a playmaker, drive to the basket more, attack the rim and knock down some more shots,” Cerny said. “I’m a pretty good defender, so I just have to keep that up, keep guys in front of me and talk on defense. As a leader, I need to teach all the guys what to do, and if I see something that I feel needs corrected I need to give constructive criticism.”

Newcomers to watch:

Jordan Vaughns | A key piece for the Trojans on both ends of the court this year comes in the form of senior forward Jordan Vaughns. Vaughns, an athletic 6’5” wing, makes up for what he lacks in size with energy and sheer athletic ability. Beginning as a regular fifth-quarter player his freshman year, Vaughns has taken a considerable leap since four years ago coming into this season as a likely starter.

Last season Vaughns found his stride in limited minutes off the bench where he brought energy unlike anyone on the team, pulling down rebounds on both ends of the court and guarding the opposing team’s best player. 

One memorable moment from Vaughn’s junior year was during the sectional championship against Greenwood where Vaughns played the closing minutes and prevented a Woodmen comeback, limiting Greenwood’s top player Rasheed Elemikan and aiding the Trojans to a 41-35 victory. 

All the senior needs to do is continue to build on his strengths and improve on his offense, which was limited last year but showed flashes of an elite ability to get to the rim. 

Ethan McComb | McComb, a 6’1 combo guard, received spot minutes for the Trojans last season but in his time with JV and limited runs with varsity, he showed an elite ability to shoot, making over 40% from beyond the arc for the past two years. This offseason, McComb wanted to add to his sharpshooting ability.  

“I’ve worked a lot on shot faking, getting to the rim, making plays for the bigs down low and just being more than just a shooter being a two or three,” McComb said. 

McComb’s offensive production will need to be available for the Trojans who graduated numerous deep threats including Hacker and Bemis. 

Most Anticipated Games:

Whiteland | Dec. 17 One of the Trojans sectional title challengers is the Whiteland Warriors and the early season test will be a thermometer of where the Trojans heat for a sectional title. 

At Carmel | Jan. 7 Squaring off with a team fresh off a state title, a school rival, and this year’s No.1 ranked team will put the Trojans’ postseason aspirations to the test. Last year Carmel sent the Trojans packing with a 51-44 loss. The game will serve as an assessment of the Trojan’s ability to win at the highest level. 

Season Outlook:

Coming off their fourth sectional title in five years, Center Grove has high hopes for the upcoming season. The road won’t be easy with Franklin and Whiteland standing as the Trojan’s biggest threat for a Johnson County Championship and sectional title. 

“The biggest thing is your off-season individual work. I’ve never seen a group improve individually as much as this group has. These guys are gym rats. They work constantly on their game, and probably the most important thing, you can hear it in the locker room right now. They really like each other. Team chemistry is so big for any team to be successful no matter what sport, but really in basketball because five guys have to be in sync,” Hahn said. “For us, their hard work in the offseason–every one of them tried to put on ten pounds–we challenged them to make 25,000 shots in three months, and we had several guys meet that goal.”

Eight-year tenure coach Hahn said a successful season would be one of “beating the teams you should beat, beating some of those you shouldn’t, and escaping sectionals in back-to-back years. 

“You try to win every game on your schedule. That’s the goal of every coach, but for us, it’s to beat every team you’re supposed to and then a few that you’re not. I think that’s the definition of a good season, that’s overachieving. Beat everyone you’re supposed to, that you’re more talented than, and then you beat a few that you’re not, and hopefully you’re playing your best basketball in the middle to late February, and it gives you a chance to make a run,” Hahn said. “That’s kind of what the goal is. We’ve talked a lot about how sectionals used to be kind of a big hurdle here, but in the last four or five years, we were trying to take that next step consistently.”