Strong summer leads to impressive start to season for Huntington North boys hoops

Senior Mitch Geller has emerged as one of Huntington North's primary scoring options this season. ( file photo)
Huntington North coach Craig Teagle says that junior Zach Daugherty's strength has improved considerably this season. ( file photo)

There is no better thing to a high school basketball coach with an inexperienced squad than the month of June.

Whereas historically a coach could not really begin to form and work with his team until open gym sessions and the start of practice in the late fall, today’s prep hoops landscape means that on-court work on the next season can begin much earlier.

That has definitely paid off for Huntington North.

The coach of a 17-win team a year ago, Craig Teagle watched as 74 percent of his scoring and three-fourths of his rebounding walked out the door as high school graduates. So when June came — with its wealth of tournaments and shootouts across the state for high school teams to participate in — Teagle’s team went to work.

“That’s the best thing about Indiana basketball, that month of June,” Teagle said “We played 22 games and got a good feel for what we had.”

What Huntington North has is a good mix of young and old, big and small. Senior Mitch Geller and junior Zach Daugherty have picked up where the departed Hunter Hollowell and Chazz Bruce left off as the Vikings are 4-0 heading into Saturday’s home game against Manchester (0-3).

Teagle took what he learned in the summer and was able to see where his team needed to grow and improve. By the time the season tipped on Nov. 22 against Homestead, Teagle no longer felt as if he had a team that was thin on experience.

As is customary from Teagle-coached teams, the Vikings’ early-season success has come thanks to a mix of outside shooting and disciplined defense. The team is shooting 56 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range while allowing under 40 points per game.

“We have a nice group that is really coachable, gives great effort and has a good attitude,” Teagle said. “But we have been fortunate because the four teams we have played didn’t shoot as well as we thought they would against us.”

Some of that can be credited to the Vikings defensive play, of course.

Offensively, Geller is leading the team in scoring at 12.8 points per game. The sixth man for last year’s Northeast 8 champions, the senior is shooting 72 percent from the field, which includes not a single attempt from beyond the arc.

“Mitch was our most improved player throughout last year,” Teagle said. “Probably by the last month of the season, he was getting starter minutes even though he came off the bench. He has really come around. He is explosive and is good inside and out.”

Daugherty, the lone returning starter back from last season, has stepped up in Hollowell’s absence as the team’s primary three-point threat. The junior has hit 9-of-13 three-point attempts so far.

“Zach has gotten a lot stronger, although it doesn’t look like it,” said Teagle about his 5-foot-10 guard. “And he has a lot more confidence in his role.”

When Teagle came to Huntington North from Jay County, he felt that it would be a four-year process for the players in the program and the younger future Vikings to have a good understanding of his philosophies, which includes an offense based on motion principles. But after two NE8 crowns and a strong start to this season, that timeframe may have been too lengthy.

“We are getting closer (to where we need to be),” Teagle said.

With a 12-2 record in the NE8 through two years, that’s bad news for league opponents.