NEW WASHINGTON — After a senior-laden New Washington team won sectional and regional titles in 2016-17, the Mustangs have taken some lumps the last two seasons.
But with four returning starters, including seniors Jesus Diaz, A.J. Walter and Josh Clemons, New Wash looks to take a step forward this season.
“Those three guys especially, this is their third year of varsity basketball, they understand what we need to do,” said Mustangs coach Jonathan May, whose team went 3-21 in 2017-18 and 9-15 last season. “Two years ago we struggled and last year we improved a little bit, those guys should really be anxious to take that next step. They’ve been really good leaders so far. They’re anxious to get out there and prove what they can do.
“They’ve pretty much been playing since then. We feel like they’re really good leaders. They understand how hard they have to work. … When your leaders are your best players it makes it really enjoyable to coach.”
Diaz is the team’s top returning scorer and perimeter threat. He averaged 13.6 points per game last season while making 2.2 3-pointers per game and shooting 81.7 percent from the free throw line.
“Jesus, when he’s ready to shoot it, we feel like he can make shots,” May said of Diaz, who also averaged three assists and 2.3 rebounds a game.
The 5-foot-10 Walter (11.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.8 apg) is Diaz’s backcourt running mate.
“A.J. is at his best when he’s getting into the paint and creating offense for his teammates,” May said.
Meanwhile the 6-4 Clemons (8.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) leads the way up front.
“He’s probably the best scorer we have with his back to the basket,” May said.
Versatile junior Bo Giltner (9.2 ppg, 5 rpg), who played point guard as a freshman and is now a forward, is the other returning starter.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger and he’s just been playing with a lot more confidence,” May said. “He can defend [positions] one through five, and on the offensive end he can play inside and out.”
Blue-collar senior forward Garrett Wilson (1.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg), a key reserve last season, is also back.
“I don’t have to ask him to pick the pace up and work hard,” May said. “He’ll do whatever we need him to do. He’s pretty much the ultimate team player.”
In addition to several experienced returnees, the Mustangs also welcome in a few newcomers who could help too. Among those are a trio of freshmen — Jakob Arthur, Matthew Arthur and Mason Thompson.
“[They] are really going to challenge those older guys and help us,” May said.
Jakob Arthur is the son of former New Wash star Shannon Arthur, the program’s all-time leading scorer. Meanwhile Matthew Arthur is the son of Matthew Arthur, Shannon’s brother and a solid scorer in his own right.
“They both work really hard, they’re very eager to learn,” May said. “I think both of them will be a tremendous asset for us right away.”
May believes the additions of the Arthurs and Thompson will help bolster the Mustangs' depth.
“We really feel like there’s 12 guys that are going to be competing for minutes,” May said. “We will go deeper into our bench because we do have that luxury, but I can’t get 12 guys in a rotation, unless you play like Grinnell [College]. So, those that play will have to earn those minutes.”
The Mustangs hope to challenge for Southern Athletic Conference and sectional titles, but they'll have to contend with Lanesville, which tied for the SAC title and won the sectional last season, as well as Christian Academy, the 2018 sectional champ.
”We’re going to have to really compete and work hard this year if we want to get to that level,” May said. “It’s cliche to say, but we’re taking it day-by-day. But just like everybody else we want to compete for conference and sectional titles.”