Hard work and consistently carrying out the game plan are two of several reasons why the Connersville Spartans boys basketball team won 21 of 27 games this season.
Those two things, according to head coach Kerry Brown, blended with another important factor to produce positive results, and provide a promising future for CHS boys hoops.
“Good kids get rewarded, I believe that. And we’ve got good, talented kids who really work hard and they got rewarded for how much hard work they do put in,” said Brown. “We’ve always had good kids since I’ve been here and this is a good group of young men.”
The Spartans’ rewards were the team winning the most games in a season since the 2005-06 squad went 19-3, sweeping the competition to win consecutive Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference championships, and winning the New Castle sectional to earn a trip to the Class 4A regional at Southport.
The CHS season came to an end when the host and 9th-rated Cardinals scored 6 of the game’s final 8 points to win, 42-35. Despite the loss, the experience and confidence the players gained should be invaluable.
Ten players will return for the Spartans next season, including three starters — junior forwards Grant Smith and Beau Isaacs, the team’s top two scorers, and sophomore point guard Garrett Silcott, who led CHS in assists.
While Connersville loses just two players, the loss definitely will be felt.
Forward Tyler Billups was a scoring and 3-point shooting threat who also hit the boards well and wasn’t shy about playing defense.
Chandler Graves was all over the court from his guard position, hounding his opponent defensively, going after every rebound or loose ball and consistently making the extra pass.
The 6-2 Billups averaged 11.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and nearly 2 assists a game. Graves, at 6-0, averaged 2.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and an assist.
“It’s going to be very difficult to replace them, very difficult,” Brown said. “They were two of our best defenders and while their numbers don’t jump out at you, both of them could score points. Both of them always played within the team concept and their leadership and everything they brought to the team was outstanding, especially the past two seasons. We’ll have to have some guys from the bench step up next year because we’ve got two key players to replace.”
Grant Smith, who delighted CHS fans all year with his leaping ability, overall game and flair for the dramatics, averaged a team-leading 11.8 points and 4.6 rebounds. The 6-4 Smith also averaged 3.0 assists, 1.4 steals and one blocked shot an outing.
Isaacs led the team in rebounding, averaging 5.7 a game. A good scorer inside, the 6-4 forward-center extended his shooting range to become a consistent 3-point threat, shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc and increasing his scoring average to 11.7 points a game.
Silcott was steady all season, averaging 8.7 points, 3.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals. Despite handling the ball the majority of the time, Silcott committed just 58 turnovers, helping the Spartans keep their miscues to under 11 a game.
Freshman guard Noah Belt established himself as a 3-point weapon early in the season and finished with a 2.7 average. Dalton Huffman, a 6-3 junior, provided some valuable minutes coming off the bench and contributed 1.6 points and 1 rebound a game.
Wes Smith, a 6-2 sophomore, 6-3 juniors Hunter Sullenbarger and Gavin Wickes, and sophomore guards Dalton Lee and Braxton Revalee all have a chance to earn playing time — or a starting spot — on next year’s team.
“Our bench players did some good things while they were in there and they have to work hard in the off-season and keep improving. Everyone does,” said Brown.
Free throws were crucial to the Spartans’ success — on both sides of the scoreboard. Connersville shot 488 free throws and made 388, an excellent 79.5 percentage. However, Brown is as equally pumped about another stat besides the team’s accuracy rate.
“We made more free throws than our opponents shot. That’s really big, that’s huge,” he said. “We did a great job of not reaching in and slapping and committing silly fouls this year. Shooting 79 percent is outstanding and that’s a by-product of how hard they work in practice and how much they work on shooting free throws.”
Success comes with a price. For the Spartans that price will be a schedule full of teams looking for revenge, including Richmond, which CHS beat for the first time in seven years, and New Castle, which Connersville defeated twice, including a thrilling sectional semifinal battle on the Trojans’ home floor.
“We can’t get caught looking in the mirror because we’re going to have a mark on our back after winning the conference again, winning the sectional and representing ourselves well in the regional,” said Brown.
“We can’t look back and think about how good things were last year and expect it to happen again. We’ve got to put it behind us, move on and keep working hard to make it happen again.”
Something vital to all teams is a trait the Spartans have. It’s an attribute that’s been building the past four years and should continue, with the team reaping the benefits, according to Brown.
“It’s a rare commodity for kids to understand what you want — not just some of the time but all of the time — and we have that,” he said. “Our kids play smart and they always carry out the game plan. We expect that to continue.”
Notes: CHS is 96-74 during Brown’s seven years as head coach, a .564 winning percentage. Overall, Brown is 178-172 in 15 years on the sidelines. … The Spartans played three teams that were ranked in the top 15 at the time. In the Bob Wettig Tournament in Richmond, CHS lost to 15th-rated Warren Central, 54-39, on Dec. 29, but bounced back the next morning to defeat No. 9 Fort Wayne North, 40-37. Southport (No. 9) is the third top 10 team the Spartans played.
(Photos by Jeff Stanton, Doug Jordan and Jeff Gabbard)
Union County W 49-33
at Indianapolis Broad Ripple W 54-46
Rushville W 56-48 (OT)
Shelbyville W 83-50
at Pendleton Heights L 45-35
at South Dearborn W 73-35
Richmond W 52-47 (OT)
Greenfield-Central W 47-40
Bob Wettig Tournament (Richmond) *
Lebanon W 54-50*
Warren Central L 54-39*
Fort Wayne North W 40-39*
Hamilton Heights L 52-46*
Greensburg W 59-27
Muncie Central W 56-49
at New Castle W 75-66
Batesville W 39-28
Mt. Vernon (Fortville) L 44-38
at Mooresville L 53-26
Centerville W 57-39
at East Central W 52-33
at New Palestine W 34-33
Franklin County W 57-27
at Lawrenceburg W 54-27
Northeastern W 69-56
Greenfield-Central W 50-40
New Castle W 63-55
vs Southport L 42-35
CHS final stats: (21-6)
• Grant Smith: 11.8 p, 4.6 r, 3.0 a, 1.4 st, 0.9 bks
• Beau Isaacs: 11.7 p, 5.7 r, 1.1 a, 0.8 st
• Tyler Billups: 11.2 p, 3.3 r, 1.5 a, 1.2 st
• Garrett Silcott: 8.7 p, 3.4 a, 2.6 r, 1.2 st
• Chandler Graves: 2.8 p, 3.3 r, 0.9 a, 0.9 st
• Noah Belt: 2.7 p, 0.6 r
• Dalton Huffman: 1.6 p, 1.0 r
• Wes Smith: 0.8 p, 0.4 r
• Dalton Lee: 0.6 p, 0.3 r
• Gavin Wickes 0.4 p, 0.2 r
• Braxton Revalee 0.1 p
• Hunter Sullenbarger 0.0 p, 0.1 a
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