Kerry Prather’s long coaching tenure at Franklin College includes teams he felt might not be ready to open a season with four road games.
His current Grizzlies squad isn’t one of them.
Expectations are high within this team, whose returning players account for all but five of the points scored last season. Franklin College won eight of its final 10 games, perhaps a sneak peek of what’s in store in what is Prather’s 36th season as head coach.
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“It’s been several years, and what struck me was our very first practice. Halfway through, one of our seniors said it feels like we’ve picked up where we left off,” Prather said. “There’s nothing like the combination of depth and experience.”
The Grizzlies feature no shortage of either, with eight players on the roster who have scored at least 200 career points. Junior guard Sam Gutierrez averaged 13.9 points to lead the team a year ago, with 6-foot-5 senior swingman Kale Morris on his heels at 13.6.
Also back are sophomore forward Matt Krause (9.7 ppg), senior guards Borden Kennedy (9.1) and Jordan Anderson (7.9) and junior forward Danny Goggans (7.8). Post players Kyle Meyer and Payton Mills, both 6-5, combined to make 27 starts last season.
The Grizzlies were 4-13 a year ago and riding a six-game losing streak — all of those by 10 points or fewer — when a late-January win at Anderson gave them the momentum needed to take them through the rest of the season.
“I think it was players falling into the roles they needed to be in. I started playing off the ball more and was coming off screens,” Morris said. “Everyone was pretty motivated to be even better this season.”
Among the newcomers expected to contribute is 6-4 sophomore guard/forward Ryan Mansbarger, a transfer from Goshen College who saw action in 26 of the Maple Leafs’ games last season.
Franklin College made 37 percent of its 3-point attempts a year ago, a number Prather would like to see go up. He cited offensive rebounding and defense as other areas that needed improvement.
Grizzlies players must also remain focused on the task at hand if they are to produce their first winning season since 2012-13. Having a seasoned squad is always a plus, as long as it plays to its potential.
“That is indeed the challenge, but the guys were very disappointed when the season ended last year,” Prather said. “The challenge becomes consistency, and I see that developing every day in practice.”
Morris, the team’s leading 3-point marksman with 61 and a ridiculous 60 of 61 at the free throw line last season (98.4 percent), doesn’t mind aiming high when it comes to goals for this Franklin College squad.
“Win the conference and see what happens in the national tournament,” he said.