Long after the final team breakdown, members of the Southmont boys’ basketball team are still in the gym getting shots up.
On Monday night, the eve of a regular season showdown with fifth-ranked Parke Heritage, coach Jake Turner had to shoo a pair of players off the court and tell them to go home and get some rest. Wednesday night assistant coach Dan Chadd was sticking around for any guys who wanted to get extra shots up.
The Mounties are on the verge of their first winning season since 2017-18. And it’s not by accident.
Southmont starts a sophomore, two juniors and two seniors — but the group of four seniors gets the credit for the winning culture that is churning in Turner’s fourth year at the helm of the program.
“When coach comes to us to give us our role for the team, we all work together to bring success for whatever makes our whole team successful,” senior Austin Bowman, who is averaging 11.9 points per game, said. “When coach asks something of us, we take it personally and try to do everything we can to not only have ourselves be succesful, but the whole team be succesful. And take our role with seriousness. We are seniors and leaders. If we don’t do what we are asked to do, then nobody will do what they’re asked to do.”
While Bowman has been one of the Mounties leading scorers since his sophomore year, each of the four seniors have unique roles — with it being the first years of full-time varsity experience for the other three.
“My role is more of a leader and energizer,” point guard Cale Hess said. “Coach told me I was going to be a captain and I just knew I had to lead and be able to really motivate our guys to stay focused and it’s a long season, so we basicaly have to chug along and I think that we’ve done a pretty good job so far.”
Hess is the averaging five points and four assists for the 10-9 Mounties, who close out the regular season tonight at home against Indianapolis Scecina.
“They’ve each kind of had different paths over the course of their careers,” Southmont coach Jake Turner said. “Austin played as a sophomore. He’s been a big scorer for us really all three years he’s played varsity. Cale kind of progressed every single year and he went from a JV starter as a sophomore to getting some minutes as the season went along last year, and now he’s really grown and progressed and had a really great senior year.”
The other two seniors in Steele Baumgardner and Cam King have been role players, but their contributions have been just as impactful.
“I think when coach came to me at the beginning of the season, he just kind of told me that my role was going to be as a big,” Baumgardner said. “And I knew I wouldn’t get a substantial amount of minutes, but I just try to come in whenever and do the best that I can, and go wherever they need me. I feel like all of the seniors have stepped up as leaders and led the team to a successful season.”
Out of the gate, King was asked to be a sharpshooter off the bench. The senior knocked down 7-of-10 3-pointers in his first three games, before missing a large chunk of the season due to an unexpected surgery.
“I just remember when I was going to the emergency room I didn’t know if it was going to be a fluke or if I had something, and turns out I actually had something,” he said. “I was just hoping I was going to be able to get back afterward. I didn’t know if my season was done, but I remember telling coach when I was close to coming back that whatever opportunities I got in my games back that I’d give it all I’ve got and leave it all on the court.”
The pandemic has played its role too. Southmont missed last summer, and has had very few team bonding activities this season. But with a core returning group combined with senior leadership and an ongoing threat to their season set forth by COVID-19 — means they’ve never lacked for something to play for.
“We’ve played together for the last couple years, and I think coach and everybody on the team — from the seniors to the freshmen we all get along and we stick together as a squad,” Bowman said. “COVID has been hard on us to get our fun things that we do like team meals. Team bonding really happens outside of the gym, so we get what we have, and we try to work the best within that. We know that nothing is guaranteed here. We really give it everything we’ve got every time we have a chance, and everything is important this season. And I think that’s what motivates us the most and I think that’s why we are having such a great season.”
All led by a group of seniors that started leading by example well before they were the leaders on the floor.
“I knew we were in a good place. Two years ago even though we struggled, we had lost so many seniors from that class in 2018, but even after practice and I think we only won four games that year, and guys would stick around like they are right now, getting shots up, playing one on one, we just have a good group of kids who enjoy playing,” Turner said. “They enjoy being in the gym and it’s paid off. Some groups you can tell as the year goes along, and we’ve had more success this year so that helps to keep kids motivated, but you have some years where guys are just ready to be done. Where with this group, I honestly love coaching these guys, they are fun to coach. They don’t view it as work, they just come in excited and ready to get better.”