NEW ALBANY — The first year A.R. (After Romeo) wasn’t bad for New Albany.
Although they had some struggles early, splitting their first 10 games, the Bulldogs came on strong at the end of last season — their first following the graduation of all-time leading scorer and 2018 Indiana Mr. Basketball Romeo Langford. They finished 18-7 and advanced to their seventh straight Class 4A Seymour Sectional final before losing 60-42 to rival Jeffersonville.
New Albany graduated a pair of starters off that team, but return five key contributors. They are senior forwards Julien Hunter and Trey Hourigan, junior center Jordan Thomas and sophomore guards Tucker Biven and Kaden Stanton.
“We’ve got a pretty good mixture,” said Bulldogs coach Jim Shannon, who is beginning his 22nd year on the New Albany bench.
"I feel like we’re being slept on by a lot of people. I feel like it’s going to be a way bigger year than what we had last year,” added Hunter, the team's most experience — and explosive — player.
The 6-foot-5 forward, who averaged 12.9 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game last season, begins his fourth year as a starter.
“Julien’s really improved,” Shannon said. “It was tough last year.”
Hunter missed the final five games of last season due to a broken leg. Then, after he recovered from that, he suffered a stress reaction in his foot over the summer.
“He’s healthy now — he's a beast,” Shannon said. “He’s strong, he goes hard in the weight room, his vertical’s improved, his strength’s improved, his shooting’s improving, I look for big things out of him.”
Meanwhile the 6-5 Hourigan (7 ppg, 5.2 rpg) enters his third season as a starter.
“Trey just continues to improve,” Shannon said. “We’re going to look for some big-time scoring out of him this year. He’s shooting the ball well from everywhere and putting it on the floor much better.”
Then there’s the 6-7 Thomas (4.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg), who came on strong at the end of last season after Hunter went down with his injury.
“Jordan, he has a lot of potential,” Hourigan said. “He can be, probably, the best out of all of us really.”
Stanton (4.8 ppg, 2.3 apg) and Biven (2.8 ppg), who both saw ample playing time as freshmen, will comprise the Bulldogs’ backcourt.
“Our perimeter game’s improved,” Shannon said. “I feel like the young kids are not as young as they were, because Kaden and Tucker are sophomores, they’re still young, but it’s still a lot older than freshmen. Freshman basketball at the varsity level is hard. Yet they were thrown into the fire last year and I thought they did really well. Now they’re playing a lot older than they were last year, so it’s been a welcome sign.”
Stanton tied for second on the squad in steals and was third in 3-pointers made.
“He’s gotten bigger, faster, stronger, quicker,” Shannon said. “The biggest problem he’s got right now is finding some time to get a rest. I don’t take him out much and yet he’s got to get some rest, so we’ve got figure out who’s going to play the point when he’s not in.”
Meanwhile Biven, who has already committed to play baseball for the University of Louisville, tied for the team lead in charges taken.
“He’s just a great athlete — pretty quick, pretty fast, jumps real well, shoots the ball extremely well,” Shannon said. “I think people are going to be fascinated by how much he’s improved this year.”
Shannon also expects a trio of reserves to contribute. They are junior Charlie Carr, sophomore Maddox Schmelz and freshman Jackson Streander.
“Our first eight guys are going to be vying for a lot of playing time. There might be a ninth sneak in there, but right now we’ve got the eight that we think are going to be solid,” Shannon said.
The Bulldogs open the season Nov. 30 at Bloomington South.
“We feel really good about where we’re at, but we’ve got a long way to go — especially defensively,” Shannon said. “But we really feel like we’ll be a team that should rebound the ball really well, should defend the ball really well and I really believe that we’ll score the ball better than we did last year. But time will tell.”