Last year was the first step in the process for Lincoln Trail College men's basketball coach Mike Ray.
In his first full season at the helm of the Statesmen, Ray's squad put together a solid season, finishing with a 16-15 record.
This year, he believes his team has the ability to turn things up a notch.
The Statesmen return a strong nucleus and have added an athletic recruiting class that has Ray excited about the prospects for this season.
"I am really encouraged about what we've got," Ray said. "Last year's group set a real nice foundation for what we want to do. This year, we've upped the ante. We have increased the talent and skill level. It should be a fun year here at the Trail."
Of the 17 players on this year's roster, 10 of them were on the team last year, which is a big change for the Statesmen, who began last season with a completely new roster.
"Practices have been a lot smoother this year with all of the returnees," Ray said. "We've had some injuries, but you are going to have that as hard as these guys go. Overall, though, we have had a nice preseason."
Headlining the group of returnees are guards Dennis Hightower (5-11, Danville), Caleb Begle (6-3, Jasper, Ind.) and Jake Newton (6-5, Terre Haute) and forwards Nick Painter (6-6, Flora) and Jesse Tesmer (6-8, Greencastle, Ind.). Others who saw time for the Statesmen last year include 5-9 guards Jordan Houser (Terre Haute) and Alex Baker (Marengo, Ind,), 6-2 guard Ron Dietz (Indianapolis, Ind.), 6-1 guard Jacob Duncan (Marshall) and 7-0 center John Bootz (Houston, Tex.)
Adding depth and athleticism to that group is a talented crop of newcomers, including 6-3 freshman guard Tyler Alexander (Indianapolis, Ind.), 6-5 freshman guard Mike Brown (Indianapolis, Ind.), 6-6 freshman forward Reggie Anderson (Indianapolis, Ind.), 6-5 freshman guard Larry Johnson (Carmel, Ind.), 6-4 sophomore Jason Smith (Indianapolis, Ind.) and 6-8 sophomore Jacoby Roddy (Peoria). Roddy, a transfer from Wright State, might be familiar to Robinson basketball fans, as he was a reserve on the Peoria Manual team that Robinson High School beat for the state championship in 2010. Another freshman, 6-8 Caleb Parker (Brown County, Ind.), is slated to redshirt this season.
"We have athletes at every position," Ray said. "You need athletes that can play to be successful at this level and I credit our coaching staff for doing a good job bringing those types of players in here. We have a good mix of kids that shoot well and have good mid-range games and we are improving on our post game. I think we are on the right track."
Getting the returnees to blend with the newcomers is a challenge all coaches have, but it is also one Ray believes can be crucial to his team's success on the court.
"A big part of what we want to do is build chemistry," Ray said. "I think our kids all like each other, which is important, because you have to have that comfort level with your teammates when you go into battle. I feel like we have a good mix of kids that are not only good athletes, but like each other, trust each other and play well together."
While he is excited about what he thinks his team might be able to do on the offensive end, Ray has put a bigger emphasis on the defensive end this season.
"Teams that win consistently at any level have defense as a staple of their program," Ray said. "Defense has to be a constant for us. We have got some kids that can fill it up at the offensive end, but we have to have that same high-octane energy level at the defensive end that we have on the offensive end."
In addition to solid defense, Ray believes there are three things all good teams need to have.
"Number one is minimize the turnovers. Number two is get our share of rebounds, which we have put at 58 percent for this team. Number three is shot selection. Those things all add up to more possessions for us," Ray said. "If we have the ball, the other team can't score. If we can do all those things well, I think we can have a really successful season."
Despite the Statesmen adding some size to this year's roster, Ray is still a bit concerned about whether his players have what it takes to do the dirty work it takes to be successful.
"Physical and mental toughness and rebounding are things we have to have," Ray said. "Those things kinds of go hand-in-hand. We have to be able to win the 50-50 game and get those unsung hero deeds - getting to loose balls, rebounds and drawing charges."
Maybe just as important as what the Statesmen do on the court is what they are doing off of it, according to Ray.
"The kids are going to class, they are keeping their grades up and they have a real passion for the game once they step in between the lines," Ray said. "I'm proud of our kids and I feel the community can be proud of them, too."
Ultimately, Ray believes what will determine whether his team is successful this season is whether or not his team does things they have been taught on a consistent basis.
"I believe every game we play we should have a 50-50 chance of winning," Ray said. "Winning is a direct result of doing things the right way. Our immediate goal is to do things the right way. If we do things the right way, we should have a really good season. If we don't, we shouldn't."
Lincoln Trail opens their season Saturday when they play host to Danville Area College at 4 p.m.
2013-14 Lincoln Trail College Men's Basketball Roster
No. Name Yr. Ht. Pos. Hometown
0 Caleb Parker Fr.(RS) 6-8 F/C Brown County, Ind.
1 Jordan Houser So. 5-9 G Terre Haute, Ind.
2 Tyler Alexander Fr. 6-3 G/F Indianapolis, Ind.
5 Ron Dietz So. 6-2 G Indianapolis, Ind.
10 Mike Brown Fr. 6-5 G Indianapolis, Ind.
11 Reggie Anderson Fr. 6-6 F Indianapolis, Ind.
12 Alex Baker So. 5-9 G Marengo, Ind.
13 Caleb Begle So. 6-3 G Jasper, Ind.
15 Jacoby Roddy So. 6-8 F Peoria, Ill.
20 Jason Smith So. 6-4 G Indianapolis, Ind.
21 Larry Johnson Fr. 6-5 G Carmel, Ind.
22 Jacob Duncan So. 6-1 G Marshall, Ill.
23 Dennis Hightower So. 5-11 G Danville, Ill.
30 Nick Painter So. 6-6 F Flora, Ill.
32 Jake Newton So. 6-5 G/F Terre Haute, Ind.
44 John Bootz So. 7-0 F/C Houston, Tex.
52 Jesse Tesmer So. 6-8 C Greencastle, Ind.
Head coach: Mike Ray
Assistant coaches: Zack Patterson, Vince Stennett
2013-14 Lincoln Trail College Men's Basketball Schedule
Date Opponent Time
11-2 DANVILLE AREA COLLEGE 4 p.m.
11-5 LINCOLN COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
11-9 at Three Rivers (Mo.) College 7 p.m.
11-13 at Lincoln College 7:30 p.m.
11-16 PARKLAND COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
11-23 at Rend Lake College 3 p.m.
11-26 LEWIS & CLARK COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
12-2 at Danville Area College 7:30 p.m.
12-4 at Lake Land College 7:30 p.m.
12-7 VINCENNES (IND.) UNIVERSITY 7 p.m.
12-10 THREE RIVERS (MO.) COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
12-14 at Parkland College 4 p.m.
1-8 SHAWNEE COMMUNITY COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
1-11 at Southwestern Illinois College 7:30 p.m.
1-15 SOUTHEASTERN ILLINOIS COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
1-18 at Kaskaskia College 3 p.m.
1-20 OLNEY CENTRAL COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
1-22 WABASH VALLEY COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
1-25 at John A. Logan College 3 p.m.
1-29 REND LAKE COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
2-1 at Lewis & Clark College 3 p.m.
2-5 LAKE LAND COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
2-8 at Vincennes (Ind.) University 7 p.m.
2-12 at Shawnee Community College 7:30 p.m.
2-15 SOUTHWESTERN ILLINOIS COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
2-17 at Southeastern Illinois College 7:30 p.m.
2-19 KASKASKIA COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
2-22 at Olney Central College 7:30 p.m.
2-26 at Wabash Valley College 7:30 p.m.
3-1 JOHN A. LOGAN COLLEGE 7:30 p.m.
3-3 at Region 24 Tournament TBA
Posted: Saturday, January 18, 2014
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My son and I have been going to games for two years now. I would love to have Ray coach my son, not only he is a great coach, he teaches integerty , responseable , and disabling. And most important he's a good christen man.