ELKHART — The Elkhart Central boys basketball program is facing retirement, yet the final edition of the Blue Blazers feels more like a newborn.
Start-from-scratch aspects to the 2019-20 club will include trying to push past a 5-17 record that matches Central’s lowest win total in 13 years, doing so after losing last season’s top four scorers, and doing so with a new head coach.
The new coach, Scott Sekal, says it’s time for some baby steps, but he doesn’t sound discouraged by the process.
“I’m not looking big picture after five and 17,” Sekal said of whether he’ll set specific win goals.
“I’m looking at quarter to quarter, possession to possession. The more positives we can stack up, the better, and I think those will happen I think these kids are bought in. I don’t think they’ll accept losing. I think they’ll work hard and I think every day we’ll take a step forward.”
The Blazers open their 48th season – and their last known one due to the merger of Central and Memorial back into one high school next fall – by hosting Northridge on Tuesday.
The team’s two most seasoned returnees are still underclassmen in 5-foot-9 sophomore guard Cam’ron Daniels and 6-4 junior forward Luke Teich.
Daniels, a lefty ball-handler with a smooth, gliding stride, averaged 5.9 points, more than two assists and nearly two steals per game as a freshman last season, but struggled with shooting efficiency.
“Cam’s a big part of us,” Sekal said. “I’m excited about his upside. He’ll be running a lot of (point guard), but we also have some interchangeable parts. Like all our guys, he just needs to take it a day at a time and learn.”
Teich averaged 5.1 points and just over three rebounds as a sophomore.
Three seniors dot the roster in 6-3 forward Isaiah Chandler, 3-point threat Ty Windy and Mark Brownlee, the record-shattering all-state running back who did not play basketball last year.
“Isaiah, being a senior and being the quarterback in football, he’s a good leader,” Sekal said, “but he’s not super vocal, nor is Cam’ron. I’m trying to get him to lead more by vocality, but he’s a great kid.”
Brownlee’s return to the court has been heartily welcomed.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Sekal said. “Is he the most skilled? Absolutely not, but I’ll take his motor all day long. He goes hard on everything he does.”
Others on the varsity roster are juniors Armon Hurt, Isaac Stewart and Akita Walker, and sophomore Donovan Johnson.
While Sekal is listing just nine for now, he says there are further candidates to see varsity action as well. Including freshmen, 35 players tried out this year.
The sixth Blazer head coach in the last nine seasons, Sekal succeeds Barry Singrey, who resigned in June after one year.
A former Michigan State player, Sekal has been a head coach in both Michigan and North Carolina in addition to spending most of the last 10 seasons as a Central assistant.
New to the Blazer assistant staff will be Matt Stoll, a former Ferris State and pro player who teaches at North Side Middle School, and Seth Flatt, a 2011 Central graduate who played at Oberlin College and works in the biology department at Notre Dame.
The Blazers started 1-10 last season, but went 4-7 the rest of the way, and that 4-7 included losses to heavily favored Warsaw in overtime during the regular season and 43-41 during the Elkhart Sectional.
After playing 1-3-1 defense virtually throughout last winter, man-to-man is likely to be the lead staple this season.
“One of the biggest challenges for the kids will be learning new stuff, so I’m trying not to do too much there,” Sekal said, “but no matter what defense we play, we’re not going to be big, so we want to be tough and disciplined.”
Offensively, according to the coach, “we’re learning how to read and make great decisions and have great shot selection. I’m trying to teach what a great shot is for each individual.”
Citing lessons learned from his Spartan days under Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo, Sekal says being able to dictate the tempo of a game is often key, whether that’s to slow it down or a controlled version of speeding it up, depending upon the personnel on each side.
“Our biggest nemesis might be rebounding, because again, we’re not very big,” Sekal said, “but we’ve got to find a way. I’m a firm believer in winning the rebounds. You look at rebounds and turnovers in box scores, that’ll usually tell you who won the game.”
Challenges and all, Sekal’s eager to have it play out.
“Being a head coach for the first time in Indiana, it’s just cool,” Sekal said, “and I love the effort our kids are putting in. I know they’ll put in a thousand percent effort every day.”
BLUE BLAZERS ROSTER
Akita Walker`6-2 Jr.
Head coach: Scott Sekal, 1st year.