Shelbyville head coach John Hartnett and the Golden Bears have turned the page to a new chapter. Hartnett, who is entering his third season with the program, said he feels like this is his first "normal" season as head coach.
Hartnett took command of the program midway through the 2019-20 season (coaching change) before dealing with COVID-19 last season. Shelbyville lost nine seniors from last year's team (8-14), which also makes the upcoming season feel like a fresh start.
"This was pretty much my first summer with the guys," Hartnett said. "I wasn't really sure how it would go, but we had no interruptions. It actually starts to feel like you are able to build something. It has been really nice."
Point guard Mitch Yeend and forward Matthew Bunton, both 2021 seniors, led the Golden Bears in scoring last season at 13.3 and 8.7 points per game, repsectively. Junior guard Ollie Sandman and senior guard Jakob Heaton are back, however, which gives Shelbyville a tough 1-2 punch in the backcourt.
Sandman, who added muscle to his frame and played with Indiana Elite over the offseason, will be one of the top players in the Hoosier Heritage Conference with his ability to score the basketball. He made 35 threes as a sophomore, averaging 8.0 points.
"(Ollie) has put on 35 pounds of muscle since last season," Hartnett said. "They have all bought in to lifting. They want to do it. Them getting more strength is giving them more confidence offensively. In our team scrimmage, (Ollie) had a couple finishes he wouldn't have been able to do last season."
Sandman knows he will take on a larger leadership role, as well.
"My leadership will need to step up this year," he said. "We have a lot of young guys coming in. I just have to be able to get them going. I have been through it my freshman and sophomore years. Junior year is big for me."
Heaton, who is more of a slashing guard, is explosive and has a quick first step. He worked on his outside shot over the offseason, which should help keep defenses honest this season. Heaton averaged 5.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals as a junior.
"The past couple of months, we have done a shooting program. Jakob and Ollie were in here at 6:30 in the morning putting in the work," Hartnett said. "They come in and have to get a certain amount of makes per month. These guys really bought in to doing that. That has been really beneficial. The younger guys see that and feel obligated to do it."
Also expected to contribute is sophomore guard Luke Brinkman, sophomore forward Ethan Lambert, junior guards Aidan Asher, Thomas Macaluso and Jackson Parker and senior guard Nolyn Smothers.
Despite not having much size, Shelbyville has several players who shoot it well from distance.
"Shooting will be one of the biggest things for us," Sandman said. "We can be a really good defensive team, as well. We are a little undersized, but I think we can get up and down the court."
Brinkman, who looks noticeably stronger, will be one of Shelbyville's primary ball handlers.
"Brinkman has also developed an outside jumper," Hartnett said. "A couple games during the summer he had 25-plus points. He is a strong guard."
Sandman, Heaton, Brinkman and Asher were named to The Shelbyville News' Preseason All-County Boys Basketball Team.
Hartnett and the Golden Bears open their new campaign Nov. 24 at home against Rushville. SHS will play at Triton Central Nov. 27 (only county game) before beginning HHC play Dec. 10 at home against New Castle. The team will end its regular season with two home games against Seymour (Feb. 22) and Batesville (Feb. 24).
One addition to Shelbyville's schedule is Edinburgh (Feb. 8), which will be one of the favorites to win the Mid-Hoosier Conference. Indian Creek is officially on the schedule, as well.
Although the Golden Bears will not play in a tournament during Christmas break, Hartnett has a plan for next season.
"My goal next year is to bring the Shelby Shootout back," he said.