University High coach Justin Penley is pretty open when he talks about his opening season expectations. His team is going to take some lumps, but he hopes that his young players will learn from those losses and grow.
Those early season troubles will be caused by youth and inexperience, the Buccaneers have two seniors — one with little experience — and a junior. In the entire UH program — both varsity and junior varsity — 16 of the 20 players are underclassmen.
“We are going to get after it and we are going to play hard,” Penley said. “I do like a lot of those young guys as players, I think they have a lot of potential. But as the old cliche goes, potential just means you haven’t done it yet.
“I do think by the end of the year we are going to continue and grow and I think we might cause some damage late, but I think early in the season we are going to take some lumps until we figure out what our identity is.”
David Gantz is the most experienced senior who will return for UH and he will need to be a consummate leader during those tough times. The other senior is point guard Ben Ordway, who saw limited action last year as a junior.
“We are counting on Ben to take care of the basketball, get kids in the right spot and hit the occasional shot for us too,” Penley said. “David played a lot last year as a junior and he’s a kid that we are counting on to produce for us. He is a tireless worker and an extremely bright kid.”
Size will be another issue for the Bucs, who don’t have player taller than 6-foot-1 on the roster. Junior Joseph Harless is a junior that will help to provide experience at the power forward position for the Bucs. He, along with sophomore center Jake Hubbard are the two tallest players on the team.
“Jake plays physical and plays with a lot of fire and passion,” said Penley, who is entering his 10th season at University high. “But this is probably the smallest team I’ve ever had.”
Finishing out the starting lineup will be sophomore Charlie Vargo, who saw some time last year on the varsity squad.
“He has a ton of potential and he isn’t afraid to play hard and get after it,” Penley said. “And he isn’t afraid to shoot it, that’s for sure.”
With such a small lineup, the Bucs have had to change some of their philosophies, by playing more zone defense. But they haven’t been able to run and press as much due to their youth on the bench.
“I’m not sure that matches well with us right now, early in the year,” Penley said. “We might get to that, but not consistently. All the kids that we are subbing in are sophomores and freshman, so I’m not sure that is a good fit for us at this point.”
Other players that are expected to contribute are sophomores Collin Daniel and Carter Pollock. Freshmen include Mason Broome, Zach Rice and Hayden Tolley.
The Bucs are expecting to have junior AJ Simerly, a transfer from Daniel Boone, available before the season is over.