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Eastbrook girls tip-off season tonight

PANTHERS: Eastbrook girls basketball coach Jeff Liddick gives offensive instructions to his team during practice Tuesday afternoon. The Panthers open up the season by hosting Eastern at 7:30 p.m. today.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Eastbrook girls basketball coach Jeff Liddick enters the 2018-19 with some things he hasn’t had in a couple of years – experience and numbers.

Just seven girls saw varsity minutes last season, but six players from Eastbrook’s, 9-14, sectional runner-up team return with a year of seasoning, additional strength and an increased array of basketball skills. Liddick also received reinforcements in the form of a pair of seniors coming out for the team who haven’t played in the past two years. The coach expects two freshman to contribute to the Panthers’ fortunes, as well.

Liddick stole a quote from longtime college basketball coach Don Meyer to describe the process his young, athletic group of Panthers started going through last season.

“It’s not what you achieve, it’s what you become,” Liddick said before Tuesday evening’s practice. “And they’re starting to become basketball players. It’s a work in progress.”

And because of their collective work, and work ethic, the Panthers appear to be progressing very well. 

Eastbrook’s first chance to show its progress happens tonight when Eastern (1-1) visits for the Panthers’ season-opener.

“Just the effort that they bring each and every day. We’re going on four weeks now of nothing but practices and they come in every day ready to get better, ready to work hard regardless of what times we practice,” said Liddick when asked about what excites him most about his team.

Liddick pulls double coaching duties many days, helping to prepare the Eastbrook football team for games in its tournament run, while also getting his girls ready to play. He said some evenings the team practices from 6-8 p.m., then returns for a 5:30 a.m. workout the next day. 

“They’ve stepped up to that challenge and adversity really well and each day they step on the floor, they give it and get better,” he said.

Eastbrook’s youth and inexperience last season showed up in nearly 18 turnovers a game, a collective 33-percent average from the floor -- 22 percent from 3-point range -- and 51 percent from the foul line. But Liddick had good turnouts for his summer program and during the fall, though nearly every player was involved in a fall sport. He said he’s seen tangible growth in dribbling, passing and shooting skills because of the Panthers willingness to work. 

He also expects the Panthers to be better defensively.

“We’re starting to understand help-side situations a little better and understanding position when guarding the ball and things like that.” Liddick said. “I think a lot of times we thought we were playing hard defense last year, and we were, but being out position by playing hard let teams to some easy buckets. I think they’re starting to understand those nuances of the game on the defensive end, and we’re definitely getting better at the offensive end.

“A lot of these girls have put a lot of time in working on their shots, working on their ball handling, and we’re hoping you’ll see that work on Thursday night,” he added.

Senior Kylie Standfest returns as a two-year starter, and her 10.7 points per game was second on the team to sophomore Sarah Foulk (11.1 ppg). Standfest is also Eastbrook’s top returning rebounder at nearly five a game. Standfest and Foulk were both All-Central Indiana Conference players last season.

“You look at last year, I think (Standfest) felt like she had to fire the ball up, had to look to attack,” Liddick said. “Hopefully for her now, she’s starting to get a feel that she’s got some (players) around her that can help her out in those areas, and she’s not going to have to work quite as hard to get points for us. She can just be patient with that and let the game come to her.

“We expect her to come out on a night-to-night basis and be a double-figure point scorer for us and at the same time, being a three-year starter, be that leader on the floor for us as well,” Liddick added.

Senior Zoie Ratliff (1.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg) will also share leadership responsibilities as will senior newcomers Ashlyn Standfest and Josalyn Martinez.

Martinez is the daughter of Taylor University women’s basketball coach Jody Martinez and also a standout volleyball player. Liddick was excited when Martinez told him in the spring she was going to play basketball and is even more so now that’s she wearing Panther practice gear.

“She brings a basketball lQ. She knows the game and has been around it,” Liddick said of Martinez. “Early on, she was nervous because she hadn’t been on the floor for a couple of years, but in this short three weeks that she’s been out here, she’s starting to pick up on the game again.

“I hear her at times coaching, coaching up teammates on the floor,” he continued. “If she is not in the game or the scrimmage time, she’s coaching her teammates and that’s just from being around Jody for so long. I think she has a love for the game, I wish she hadn’t sat out the last two years, but I still think she can be a special player for sure.”

Liddick admitted he threw Foulk “to the wolves” last season, making her his starting point guard from the opening game of the season, but she showed her drive and competitive spirit by leading Eastbrook in scoring at 11.1 points a game. She also averaged nearly three rebounds and assists as well as two steals a night. Foulk led Indiana with 51 goals scored during the girls soccer season, and Liddick gets that same fire from Foulk on the basketball court.

“She brings a year of confidence with her coming into this year,” Liddick said of Foulk. “She’s another one (like Kylie Standfest) that can look around at the other four with her on the floor and have confidence. She doesn’t always have to force those attacks, doesn’t have to force those passes.

“She’s going to bring scrappiness and feistiness on the floor that the other four on the floor with her are going to pick up on,” he added. “It’s fun to watch her not just play games, but to practice as well. She loves to compete and she’s going to give it everything she’s got every second she’s out there on the floor.”

Stepp (6.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.7 spg) and junior classmate Shauna Singer (1.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.6 spg) will once again play key minutes for the Panthers as will sophomores Lexi Binkerd (2.4 ppg, 4 rpg) and Naomi Diller.

Liddick also expects to get important minutes from freshmen Johwen McKim and Kristen Goff.

“They’ll split some time (with JV) here early, but I think they can do some good things for us,” Liddick said of his freshmen. “Kristen coming in for Lexi and Johwen at point guard spot. Hopefully, I can do the same things with her as I did with Sarah last year as a freshman. The good thing with Johwen now, we don’t have to force her into that role. She can spend some time at the JV level and get some confidence there then get some quarters at the varsity level.”

Liddick said there’s been no talk about goals for wins and losses, but there has been talk about what the Panthers would like to become.

“We’ve talked about the ultimate goal, to look up at those banners at the end of the year and see a couple more championships up there, I think that’s every team’s goal as they enter a season,” he said pointing to the CIC and sectional championship banners hanging on the west wall of Eastbrook’s gymnasium.

“Last year being as youthful and inexperienced as we were, we weren’t able to compete night in and night out,” Liddick continued. “This year we still are youthful, yes, but we can’t use that inexperienced excuse anymore. I’m hoping what you’ll see this year is a team that’s going out every night, regardless of the opponent, and competing at a high level.”