For the first time in a while, the Franklin High School boys basketball team didn’t have a whole lot of outside expectations to live up to last year in the beginning of the post-Luke Kennard era.
The Wildcats used that as motivation to jump out to an 8-0 start and eventually claimed their fifth straight Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division title (shared with Oakwood).
Now, with the bulk of the lineup returning, coach Brian Bales is impressing upon his team the need to play with that same mentality that drove the Wildcats to a 16-7 finish a year ago. Franklin opens its 10th season under Bales on Saturday at Jefferson.
“Last year we had guys that I think because of Luke & Co. leaving and everyone thinking we were going to rebuild, they played with a chip on their shoulder,” Bales said. “We talked a lot last year about how we’re still hunting. Those guys played with an edge and something to prove, and that’s what we’re talking about this preseason — we have to keep our edge and stay hungry. We’re still hunting.”
Franklin replaces only two seniors, and while one of them is leading scorer Braxton Lawwill (10.9 points per game), the Wildcats have the rest of the starting lineup back and plenty of experience returning to provide depth.
Expected to lead the team are seniors Konnor Black (9.6 ppg), Noah Kremer (8.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Will Kercher (8.0 ppg), as well as juniors Payton Knott (9.6 ppg, 4.7 apg), Ryan Montgomery (7.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Jared Kinzer (6.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg) and Cole Bundren (2.9 ppg).
Transfers Braden White, a junior who came from Edgewood and played quarterback for the Wildcats football team this fall, and Greg Wyatt, a senior who moved in from Florida, also should contribute.
“We have a lot of different guys who on different nights can lead us, and that was interesting last year, too,” Bales said. “We could have a very balanced attack, and that’s exciting to us as a staff.”
The offense isn’t where Bales thinks it could be later in the season, though.
Several players joined the team late after being part of the football team’s run to the second round of the Division III playoffs, and the Wildcats have yet to experience a practice with everyone available because of sickness or lingering bumps and bruises from the fall.
Bales said as of Tuesday the football players had been back for seven practices after taking a few days off following the season.
“Right now, we really are just trying to get back in the swing of things,” Bales said. “I don’t think we’re very cohesive or fluid, especially offensively, but as time goes on we will get better and better.”
As the offense finds its rhythm, the defense should help carry the load.
Much of Franklins’ Southwestern-leading 60.1 points per game last year came from its defense creating turnovers and a quick transition game off rebounds. The Wildcats were second in their division with 163 steals and hope to remain strong in that area this season.
“We really want to pressure the ball and play full-court defense,” Bales said. “We feel we have the depth to do that, and we pride ourselves on defending people. We’ve done that since our staff has been here and that’s our goal this year: Let our defense create our offense with an up-tempo, fast-paced game.”
Bales said the league is “as strong as it has been in the last five or six years,” so Franklin won’t have a lot of room for error early on. Like the Wildcats, several teams have a lot of players back from last season and size seems prevalent as well.
Franklin hopes to keep its tradition of success alive, but Bales said the Wildcats can’t be too confident about past achievements.
“We want to compete every second, win the day and win the next one,” Bales said. “That’s been our battle cry for 10 years now. We’ve had a good frame of mind approaching things, and if we do those things, maybe the chips will fall that way (for another title). We don’t talk a lot about pursuing championships. We try to pursue moments.
“We do return a lot of experience now, a lot of guys that were varsity contributors, but we can’t hang our hat on what we did last year. This is a new year and I believe these guys will keep their edge about them and remain hungry.”
Coach: Brian Bales, 10th season
2015-16 Record: 16-7 overall, 9-3 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division (first place, tied)
2016-17 Schedule (all start times 7:15 p.m. unless noted): Dec. 3 — at Jefferson, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 6 — Tri-County North, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 9 — Valley View; Dec. 10 — Talawanda, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 13 — at Edgewood, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 16 — at Bellbrook; Dec. 20 — Belmont, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 3 — at Carlisle; Jan. 6 — Monroe; Jan. 7 — Miamisburg, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 10 — Oakwood; Jan. 13 — at Brookville; Jan. 17 — at Eaton; Jan. 20 — Waynesville, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 24 — Preble Shawnee, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 27 — Bellbrook; Jan. 31 — at Monroe; Feb. 3 — at Oakwood; Feb. 4 — Springboro, 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 7 — Brookville; Feb. 10 — Eaton; Feb. 17 — at Valley View