Hayden Jones

East Noble’s Hayden Jones, right, will be one of many seniors on this year’s roster.

KENDALLVILLE — It’s going to be hard to replace what the East Noble boys lost off last season’s 21-4 team. But head coach Ryan Eakins is confident in the standard that has been set for this program and his team will still be competitive for the 2019-20 season.

The Knights graduated Ali Ali, Brent Cox and Michael Bender off last year’s team and they were a productive trio as any they’ve had in recent years. They combined 34.7 points per game and 21.1 rebounds per game, which is 75 percent of the team’s total rebounds from last season. To compensate for all of that lost production, the Knights will try to be more balanced this season.

“It’s going to be impossible to replace exactly what those guys brought to the table,” Eakins said. “It has to be a collective approach.”

Seniors Hayden Jones and Nate Dickson lead a team heavy with seniors. But after Jones and Dickson, the experience is limited.

Seniors Luke Denton, Luke McCue and Brooks Miller have some varsity experience, but have mostly played on the junior varsity team the last couple of seasons.

“I think we could play a little deeper into the bench this year, depending on how things shake out,” Eakins said. “We could have six or seven seniors on the roster, and that’s a really good thing.”

Jones averaged 10.2 ppg and 5.4 rpg and led the team with 1.8 steals per game. Dickson was a 48 percent three-point shooter last season. Eakins expects both guys to get their points but sees an extra emphasis being put on the defensive end as well.

“I think there’s no question both our team as well as opponents are going to look at those two guys as being important on the offensive end of the court,” Eakins said. “However, we need those two guys to really make their mark on the defensive end for us to be successful.”

Jones and Dickson aren’t the biggest guys on the court but Eakins wants them to use their athleticism to go after rebounds inside.

“With the undersized lineup that we’re going to have, those two guys with their strength and athleticism are going to have to rebound the basketball,” Eakins said. “Hayden is a fantastic defender and has been individually over the last couple of years, but we’re going to have to see some leadership out of him where he raises the play for our entire team on the defensive end. Nate is a potent shooter and a guy that’s capable of scoring, but he’s going to have to become a better defender this year. As strong as he is, he’ll really have to help us on the glass.”

The Knights have improved every season on the defensive end with Eakins as the head coach. They gave up 53.9 ppg in his first season in 2016-17, down to 46.3 last season.

A promising sophomore Spencer Denton will be out for the season due to injury. He played in all 25 games last season as a freshman, averaging 9.3 minutes per game and 2.8 ppg. He is expected to be with the team all season, and Eakins hopes he can be “an additional coach” throughout the season to help the team and himself in the future.

East Noble opens the season with four straight road games, beginning with a trip to West Noble on Nov. 26.

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