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Renbarger looking for effort as Oak Hill works through summer

EAGLES: Oak Hill’s Konnor Cabe puts up a jump shot during one of the Golden Eagles games Friday at the Huntington University Shootout.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

HUNTINGTON  — Oak Hill boys basketball coach Kevin Renbarger said there was no secret about what he’s looking for this summer from the players who’ll wear the title of defending 2A state champion when the season rolls around in November.

There’s been no talk about defending their state title, competing for a Central Indiana Conference championship or about any goals for the 2018-19 basketball season for that matter. 

No, what Renbarger is searching for this summer is the essence of past success and likely any the Golden Eagles may have in the future.

“Right now it is effort. That’s going to be the biggest thing,” Renbarger said after Oak Hill finished competing in the Huntington University Shootout on Friday. “Consistent varsity-level effort and knowing how to compete. Right now we have a group that’s very up and down. Sometimes we’ll compete and we’ll play well, look good, then there are other times when we’re not where we need to be.

“The summertime is for us to get through their heads that we’re going to find folks at whatever grade level, we’re going to find eight or so people who are willing to compete at the varsity level.”

Two of the key cogs to Oak Hill’s title run in March were present in Platt Arena on Friday. Caleb Middlesworth and David Arens sat at the scorers table watching the Golden Eagles drop a six-point decision to New Prairie to end the day. But both Middlesworth and Arens, along with six other seniors, graduated from high school in June and will be forever be remembered as the class that brought home the big hardware for their school.

Middlesworth, Arens and Spencer Ballinger are all part of Huntington University’s men’s basketball program now, and Tyce Frank will play for Grace. The quartet of seniors not only carried Oak Hill to its state title, it took more than 54 points of the 64 Oak Hill averaged last season across the stage at graduation, leaving big holes to fill nearly everywhere on the floor.

The Golden Eagles return only two players with any significant varsity experience. Both senior Konnor Cabe and junior Tahj Johnson are taking on expanded roles, basketball-wise and in other ways. The duo averaged just over seven points combined last season.

Cabe echoed his coach’s thoughts about helping this year’s team learning to play with the type of effort it will take to compete at the varsity level. 

“Last year we had so much talent that we could be going through the motions and stay in the game. This year without effort, we’re not going to be able to stay in a game,” said Cabe, who started nearly every game for the past two seasons for Oak Hill.

Cabe also said he understands that he is now one of the team’s leaders and is ready for the responsibility thanks to the seniors from last season.

“Guys like Caleb and Spencer really showed an example, especially there at the end in the tournament, of what a leader should look like,” he said. “Just stepping up everyday in practice and giving your all.”

Renbarger said he’s talked some with Cabe about his expanded role and is confident that both he and Johnson understand what is going to be expected.

“(Cabe) took a backseat to those four seniors last year and he was willing to do that,” Renbarger said. “This year he’s going to have to be willing to be a primary scorer, be a vocal leader and he’s going to have to be able to set the defense.

“If there’s anybody that knows what is expected of this program it’s Konnor and it’s Tahj,” he added. “They have to be the ones that are relied upon to help bring in the inexperienced kids and let them know what the culture of this basketball program is supposed to be about and what is expected.” 

With the big difference in personnel will likely come a big difference in style of play, and its one the lightning fast Johnson could use to give opponents nightmares in the winter.

Oak Hill put four players 6-foot-5 or taller on the court during most of every game in 2017-18. The Golden Eagles may not have one player at 6-5 or taller in the coming winter so a different style of play will likely come by necessity.

“A lot of up and down. We’re not a very big team like last year’s team was so we’re definitely going to have run and up down a lot, score fast break points and hit threes,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to be a really good three-point shooting team to be good, so that’s been a focus of a lot of our open gyms and our game plan for games in summer league.”

Cabe said one of the similarities he sees between the current Oak Hill team and the state champions is its connectedness, and that chemistry will also have a big impact on the team in the coming winter, along with the increase in tempo. 

“Last year one of the biggest things we focused on was just being close like a family,” Cabe said. “We still have that togetherness and we can run a lot. Last year we played a lot of half court sets and this year we’re more run and gun.”

Renbarger understands that there will be some inconsistent play with his inexperienced group and said the coaches, players and fans of the Golden Eagles will need to be patient. He also reiterated the effort he expects and will be required for Oak Hill to be competitive this season.

“We all want to win, and there are going to be games where we should win and there are going be games where we’re going to be out-matched at this point and time,” Renbarger said. “So were just kind of preaching patience right now in regards to the scoreboard. Patience, patience, patience.

“It will come. The one thing we do not want to do at the end of the summer, we do not want to be in a position to coach effort and coach intensity,” he added. “The rest of it will require patience.”