“Our last three games in the sectional and even the Huntington game a little bit, we're playing together more and I'm seeing more smiles on the court,” Hawkins said. “I'm seeing guys patting each other on the back, lifting each other up, little things like that that you don't see in the stat book.
“I think we've come a long way from game No.1 in sharing the ball and trusting one another, and I'm happy with where we're going. You can always improve and keep getting better, but I'm fairly pleased with where we've come since Day 1.”
Norwell will play Tippecanoe Valley (20-3) at noon in the second game of the Class 3A Blackford Regional on Saturday. Concordia Lutheran (20-4) plays Hamilton Heights (15-8) at 10 a.m., with the winners meeting at 7:30 p.m. for the championship.
Norwell finished as state runner-up a year ago, the best finish in school history, but graduated four regular players in Kyle Fillman, Caleb Featherston, Garrett Bucher and Grant Baker. Fillman and Featherston now play at Grace College.
So Hawkins had to retool his lineup around returning leading scorer Josh VanMeter, who continues to lead the team with a 20.3 points per game average. The Knights added 6-foot-6 Cam Denney, a transfer student who grew up in the Norwell district and averages 14.8 points per game, as well as another transfer in Austin Hayden, a promising sophomore.
Two other seniors returned in Cale Schumm and Briar Bolinger, along with juniors Drew Shively, David Vogel and Brent Bales and sophomore Piercen Harnish.
Fine-tuning the new dynamic wasn't easy, Hawkins said.
“We had to kind of rebuild,” Hawkins said. “This year, we have a lot of different faces and a lot of guys that are individually talented can do a lot of good things. It was a matter of what people don't realize – the non-stat things – coming together as a team, playing well together, trusting one another, believing in one another. We had some ups and downs with that this year, but they're on board with that now, and when we are we can do a lot of good things offensively and defensively.”
Hawkins said the team will have to play sound fundamentally and take care of the basketball to beat Tippecanoe Valley on Saturday. Tippecanoe Valley is led by Nick Kindig (18.8 points per game) and Tanner Andrews (17 ppg) and is coming off a sectional win over a solid NorthWood team.
Tippecanoe Valley coach Bill Patrick is in his 44th year as a varsity head coach. So he's been coaching 10 years longer than Hawkins, 34, has been alive.
“It's an honor to go against him,” Hawkins said. “Last time played we played them, I was the junior varsity coach so I didn't get to coach against him. He's going to have his guys playing well and put them in the right spots. We will have to play well to beat them.”
Class 3A Blackford RegionalSaturday
Concordia vs. Hamilton Heights, 10 a.m.
Norwell vs. Tippecanoe Valley, noon
Championship game, 7:30 p.m.
For more on high school basketball, follow www.twitter.com/PrepHoops_ns