Sometimes in order to build something back up, you have to tear it down to the studs.
Following a 9-20 campaign in his first season as head coach, that is the philosophy Lincoln Trail College men's basketball coach Luke Stuckey employed heading into his second season at the helm of the Statesmen.
None of the 17 players on this year's roster saw any court time for the Statesmen last season, while only two of them were even in the program. There are also just two sophomores on the roster, but there are also four redshirt freshmen, along with 11 true freshmen.
"We are the youngest team in college basketball," Stuckey said. "But, I like where we are at right now. The practices have been great and we have improved in a lot of areas."
Gutting the roster was a necessity for Stuckey, who got a late start after receiving the job and was not able to recruit the type of players we wanted in his program last season in his first year at the helm.
"Without having much time to recruit last year, it was tough to get the type of guys we wanted in here," Stuckey said. "Now that we've had a full year to recruit, starting over with a fresh roster was what needed to be done."
Just because they lack experience does not mean this is a rebuilding season for the Statesmen. Stuckey believes his team has the talent to be competitive and play at a high level.
"I really like our team," Stuckey said. "We are a little undersized, but that is by design. We should have really strong guard play, we have wings and bigs that can play a lot of different positions and give us some unique flexibility. We wanted versatility from those guys to try to create matchup problems for opposing teams."
With the deep roster that he has at his disposal, Stuckey envisions a lot of guys getting playing time early, which will help him gauge who fits the best and where.
"A benefit of our tough early schedule is we will be able to find out a lot about our team," Stuckey said. "We do know we have depth and we will play a lot of guys early. We know there are going to be some tough choices to make with playing time. Early on, we will use a rotation of 11 or 12 guys, but once we get into league play, that rotation will be cut down to eight or nine. But, that eight or nine could change from game to game, based on who is shooting the ball well, who is playing hard, etc."
As for who is on the roster, the two redshirt freshmen that returned to the program are 6-5 Hector Walker (French Lick, Ind.) and 6-0 Kendall Williams (Chicago).
"Hector has improved a lot and will be counted on to play some minutes at the big spot," Stuckey said. "He is a smart player and always seems to be in the right place. Kendall has become a great veteran leader for us. He has done a great job leading the team and getting the guys focused."
Other redshirt freshmen are 6-7 Chuchu Enechionyia (Springfield, Va.) , who transferred from VMI and 5-10 Colin Flowers (Merrillville, Ind), who transferred from Alabama State after sitting out last season with an injury.
"Chuchu has great size for his position and gives us the flexibility to play the way we want to play," Stuckey said. "He can guard anyone on the floor, is a good shooter and is a smart and unselfish player. Colin is battling through a bad injury and is pushing to get into the rotation."
Meanwhile, the two sophomores on the roster - 6-5 Hunter Ragan (Brazil, Ind.) and 6-5 Najee Taylor (Newark, N.J.) - both won't be eligible to play until the second semester due to transfer rules, but should have an opportunity to contribute once they are able to get on the court.
"Hunter is a good athlete and has had some impressive plays so far in practice, Stuckey said. "Najee is a big, physical kid that is going to give us some much-needed inside strength and scoring."
As for the crop of true freshmen, it is a deep and talented group that includes 6-7 Kyle Finch (Indianapolis), 5-10 Justin Williams (Indianapolis), 6-4 Todd Smith (Fayetteville, N.C.), 6-7 Kendall Jones (Louisville, Ky.), 6-4 Ickson Masson (Orlando, Fla.), 6-1 LeAaron Cain (Gonzales, La.), 6-4 Casius Bell Jr. (Terre Haute), 6-7 J.T. Counts (Fishers, Ind.), 6-3 Braelyne Compton (Terre Haute), 6-3 Deante Booker (Evansville, Ind.) and 6-6 Lawrence Williams (Fayetteville, N.C.).
"Finch is a tough, athletic player and is a winner. He was on a state championship team at Ben Davis," Stuckey said. "Justin Williams comes from a great high school program (Pike) and the best way to describe him is a gamer. He is a real smart and heady player. Todd is big, athletic point guard. He is a guy we will count on to do a lot offensively and defensively. Kendall is a big, strong, physical, athletic kid that we will count on to rebound and score. He has improved a lot and will continue to get better. His best basketball is ahead of him. Ickson is a really good wing defender and a great offensive rebounder. LeAaron is another guard that we are going to depend on a lot offensively and defensively. The best way to describe his is awkwardly effective. He is quick with the ball and can get to the rim. Casius is a shooting guard with great size and does a little of everything. He's a good shooter, a good athlete and can score in a variety of ways. J.T. gives us a big that can pick and pop. He is a good shooter and has worked to improve his body. He is in the mix for time at the four and five. Braelyne has a scorer's mentality. Deante is a solid, smart player and does everything well. Lawrence was under recruited and we got an absolute steal. He is a versatile guy that can play three positions and will be a matchup nightmare for teams we play."
With all the different options available to him, Stuckey believes his team will be able to play a more uptempo style and be successful with it.
"We will look to score more and play at a faster pace," Stuckey said. "We have a lot of guys that can run the floor, so we want to play more aggressive and at a faster tempo. We also want to have more ball pressure defensively and have a more aggressive mentality on that end of the floor."
Even though playing at a faster pace can lead to more scoring and a more exciting brand of basketball, Stuckey believes the level of success the Statesmen have this year will be determined by how fundamentally sound they are.
"Offensively, valuing the basketball and not turning it over will be huge for us," Stuckey said. "Defensively, we have to do two things. Since we are a smaller team, defensive rebounding is huge and we have to play good defense without fouling."
Should the be able to do those things, Stuckey believes the Statesmen can be right where they want to be, which is to compete for Great Rivers Athletic Conference and District championships.
"We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year and have a chance to win some postseason games and advance," Stuckey said. "The tournament is set up that if one team gets hot and wins a few games you are at Hutch (for the National Tournament). We want to be that team. It's going to be a fun season, but we are going to have to bring it every night."
2017-18 Lincoln Trail College Men's Basketball Roster
No. Name Yr. Ht. Hometown
0 Kyle Finch Fr. 6-7 Indianapolis, Ind.
1 Justin Williams Fr. 5-10 Indianapolis, Ind.
2 Todd Smith Fr. 6-4 Fayetteville, N.C.
3 Kendall Jones Fr. 6-7 Louisville, Ky.
4 Chuchu Enechionyia RS-Fr. 6-7 Springfield, Va.
5 Ickson Masson Fr. 6-4 Orlando, Fla.
10 Hector Walker RS-Fr. 6-5 French Lick, Ind.
11 LeAaron Cain Fr. 6-1 Gonzales, La.
12 Casius Bell Jr. Fr. 6-4 Terre Haute, Ind.
15 J.T. Counts Fr. 6-7 Fishers, Ind.
20 Braelyne Compton Fr. 6-3 Terre Haute, Ind.
22 Deante Booker Fr. 6-3 Evansville, Ind.
23 Lawrence Williams Fr. 6-6 Fayetteville, N.C.
24 Kendall Williams RS-Fr. 6-0 Chicago, Ill.
30 Colin Flowers RS-Fr. 5-10 Merrillville, Ind.
34 Hunter Ragan So. 6-5 Brazil, Ind.
40 Najee Taylor So. 6-5 Newark, N.J.
Head coach: Luke Stuckey
Assistant coaches: Jake Stuckey, Spencer Koch, Chris Brooks, Jeremiah Montez, Tim Gallion
2017-18 Lincoln Trail College Men's Basketball Schedule
Date Opponent Time
11-3 at Northwest Florida State Classic vs. Motlow State 3:30 p.m.
11-4 at Northwest Florida State Classic vs. Volunteer State 3:30 p.m.