Ken Eiswald lost the player of the year from a squad that went 18-11 last season, but the veteran head coach has plenty of reasons to smile in the post-Ethan Wilmoth era.
Wilmoth moved on to Fork Union Military Academy after setting a Golden Eagles career scoring record last spring. Gone too is forward Gabe Leftwich, the third-leading scorer.
Still, the Eagles return three starters and their sixth man, who made up two-thirds of the rebound totals.
Leading the way is junior Zach Wilmoth, a 6-foot-5 power forward who led the team in rebounds (7.1 per game) and was second in scoring (11.2 points per game).
Because he was the tallest player last year, Wilmoth spent much of his time in the post. Center isn’t his natural position, said Eiswald, because Wilmoth can slash to the basket or hit the open jumper.
He didn’t attempt many three-pointers last year, but he made eight. He could help provide an extra outside threat along with returning marksman Luke Haymore.
The reason Wilmoth will have more freedom this year is the growth of 6-foot-4 center Simeon Bracken, the team’s sixth man last year.
In the first 13 games, Bracken never scored more than five points in a game. After that, however, he started to come on.
He scored nine or more points in eight games, including 12 points on 5-7 shooting from the floor and 2-2 free throws against Carver in the first round of the state 2A playoffs.
The senior also has taken up the leadership role that Ethan Wilmoth held last year. Eiswald decided to make Bracken his team captain.
“I’m an old-fashioned coach,” said Eiswald. Rather than have two or three team captains, he prefers having one guy with whom he can communicate during practices and games. Then Bracken can share that information with the rest of the team and see that it is done.
This team won’t lack for natural leaders, he added. Wilmoth has a lot of leadership ability, and small forward Colby Chilton certainly showed his in quarterbacking the football team.
Fans didn’t get to see the real Chilton for most of last season, the coach said. He suffered a leg injury on the gridiron and seemed a half-step slow once he came out for basketball.
Eiswald believes Chilton is his best defender and a great slasher who should improve on his modest 5.4 points.
On the other wing is Haymore, who is starting to find his spot on the varsity team.
As a sophomore, Haymore was the point guard and leading scorer for the JV squad. Last year, he led the team in three-point accuracy (31 percent), but looked out of sorts at times.
He didn’t always know whether to shoot, dribble or pass, said Eiswald.
“Luke is making better decisions,” he said. “The more time he gets on the floor, the more I see him grasping the timing.”
He said Haymore also is asking good questions in practice, showing that he is understanding the philosophies.
Chilton and Haymore have another football player joining them on the team.
Kenyon Martin filled in at QB when Chilton missed two games. He showed great athleticism and quickness on a 6-foot-2 frame.
Kenyon is one of several juniors coming up from the JV team that will need to make an impact for the team.
Samuel Harris, Jake Wilmoth and Brett Mosley have all come a long way since last spring thanks to hard work in the offseason, Eiswald said.
Brett Mosley is a good ballhandler and slasher, a high-energy player, said the coach.
“Jake Wilmoth has worked tremendously on his perimeter shot,” he said.
The coach has seen a jump in Harris’ all-around skill set.
“If these guys hadn’t spent the time getting better, I don’t know how good we would be,” said Eiswald.
“They are going to surprise a lot of people and might even surprise me,” he said.
Ethan Wilmoth was a catalyst last year with his scoring, steals and assists. This year, the players have to step up and be their own catalysts, he said.
Knowing the young guys would need time to gel, Eiswald scheduled four nonconference games before the Northwest play begins as well as the alumni game a week ago.
“It’s just a battle night in and night out in the conference,” he noted.