A season preview for the Hammond boys basketball team heading into the 2015-16 season
2014-15 record: 2-17, 3-20
Coach: Mike Salapata
Top players: Seniors Jarvis Doles (F), Matt Johnson (G), Terrell Lamar (F) and Brandon Willis (G).
What you need to know: The Golden Bears took their lumps last season in their first campaign under coach Salapata on the way to finishing in last place in the county standings. But, with an infusion of talented transfers and a year of experience under the belts of the returners, the outlook is completely different this winter. In fact, there is legitimate talk of Hammond potentially going "worst to first."
Salapata, who took his team at New Town to the state finals in 2012, says he sees a lot of "winning" qualities in this group.
"It kind of reminds me of how we had things back at New Town, that's probably the best way I can describe it. We've got the system in place, some talented players and you can feel the excitement around the program," Salapata said. "This is not going to be the same Hammond team from the last couple years."
The newcomers stole headlines over the offseason when word of them transferring to Hammond spread. Willis ranked among the top 10 in the county in several statistical categories as a junior at Atholton. He can play both lead guard positions and averaged nearly 16 points a game a season ago.
Doles, a 6-foot-8 forward, arrives from Mount St. Joseph and is capable of scoring from all over the floor. Lamar, meanwhile, was the second-leading scorer at Long Reach last season and is a combo player that is the ideal small forward.
Those three join a returning group headlined by Johnson, who averaged in double figures offensively in his own right as a junior. There are also legitimate role players back in the fold, including Ryan Ridgell and T.J. White who both averaged more than four points a game last season.
It all adds up to Salapata saying the program is ready to turn the page on a new chapter.
"It was a unique situation last year, getting the job a month before the season and not being able to really put in everything in that I wanted to. It was a challenging year and we were forced to put some guys in some tough spots, but in hindsight it was really beneficial in terms of getting those guys experience. Now they're hungry and surrounded by these new guys who bring in that winning mentality."