MEMBERS OF THE PAULDING HIGH SCHOOL 2017-18 varsity basketball team are, front row from left –  Carson Shull, Bailey Manz, Jaret Miller; second row – Peyton Manz, Casey Agler, Xander Kuckuck; back row – Coach McGarvey, Marcus Miller, Blake Dobbelaere, Ethan Rhonehouse, Logan Bradford, Coach Miller, Josh Trausch, Isaac Baldwin, Fletcher Cook, Austin Howell, Coach Koenn. Matt Arellano/Paulding County Progress
MEMBERS OF THE PAULDING HIGH SCHOOL 2017-18 varsity basketball team are, front row from left – Carson Shull, Bailey Manz, Jaret Miller; second row – Peyton Manz, Casey Agler, Xander Kuckuck; back row – Coach McGarvey, Marcus Miller, Blake Dobbelaere, Ethan Rhonehouse, Logan Bradford, Coach Miller, Josh Trausch, Isaac Baldwin, Fletcher Cook, Austin Howell, Coach Koenn. Matt Arellano/Paulding County Progress
By BRUCE HEFFLINGER

Progress Sports Writer

PAULDING – Last year was a learning experience for Brian Miller in his first season at the helm of the Paulding boys basketball team.

The second-year head coach now hopes to build off of a 6-16 season with three of the top four scorers returning.

“We learned you’ve got to have a lot of patience,” Miller said about his initial campaign in charge of the Panthers. “You expect certain things to happen and with it some success and that didn’t happen. What we learned is you’ve got to play to your talent level.”

Miller feels this season his squad will be able to better compete against area competition.

“There were so many seniors on teams last year that had played three or four years,” Miller explained. “We thought we could overcome that, but it didn’t happen. We didn’t have that three- or four-year varsity player that could have made a difference.

“This year I think the area lacks a dominating team or player, so that should help us out. If we do what we do well, we can overcome less talent.”

The 2017-18 Panthers are much different than a year prior when Miller built the squad around size in the post.

“We’re going to rely more on slashing and driving to the basket,” Miller said. “We have kids that can knock down shots. With seven back, including three of the top four scorers, we have a lot of experience.”

Ethan Rhonehouse (6-2), who led the team in scoring at 12 ppg a year ago while adding 4.0 rebounds a game, is in his fourth year on the varsity, Marcus Miller (5-10, 6.6 ppg) his third and Austin Howell (6-1) and Jaret Miller (6-1, 8 ppg) their second. All but Jaret Miller are seniors.

“I coached this senior class when they were in junior high and, while I know it’s different, we won the NWC,” the Paulding mentor said. “We have got to have the mindset that we’re as good of a team as any in the area. The junior class also had success and we need to take that and build on it.

“Crestview is going to be good, they’re tall and big and have an excellent player,” Miller continued. “But against most teams we play, if we play well we can beat them.”

Having the right mentality to play as a team will be important if that is to happen.

“We’re mixing in the good from the JV unit with the experienced kids we have back from varsity,” Miller noted. “They have not played together, but they’re learning. I couldn’t ask for more of them right now, it’s just a matter of getting them to blend together.”

Senior Logan Bradford (6-4, 3 ppg) and juniors Carson Shull (5-10) and Fletcher Cook (6-0) are battling for starting roles to join in with Rhonehouse and the two Millers, all of whom earned honorable mention accolades in the Northwest Conference last season.

Howell, Bailey Manz (6-1, junior) and Blake Dobbelaire (6-0, senior) are “high-energy guys that will be sparkplugs off the bench,” according to Miller. Additional depth could come in the way of seniors Isaac Baldwin (6-1) and Josh Trausch (6-3) for a team that lost Preston Ingol (8.7 ppg), Cameron Doster (4.6 ppg), Griffin Harder (3.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Preston Johanns, Kameron Echols and Tyler Echols to graduation.

“Last year we were deep on the bench but we struggled to find the right mix,” Miller said. “This year we’re not as deep so we’ll rely more on the seven lettermen.”

The Paulding head man points to shooting as a team strength.

“We’ve got a lot of kids that can shoot and score,” Miller said. “We’ve got to work on taking care of the ball, but if we get a shot we’ll do alright.”

Experience is another area that can prove beneficial this campaign.

“These kids have been through it, so that should help,” Miller said.

Lack of size and athleticism are two areas of concern for the Paulding leader.

“We’re small at the guards, so rebounding could be a weakness,” Miller said. “Athleticism is another problem. We really lack as far as leaping ability.”

Miller has a plan on how to overcome that issue.

“Patience on offense,” Miller explained. “If we run our sets and get so much movement on offense to get good shots, we have kids that can knock it down. We just have to have enough patience to get them.”

A match-up zone team prior to Miller’s arrival in charge of the program, the Panthers are still searching for a defensive identity at this point.

“We’ll mix and match,” Miller said. “Some of the teams on our schedule can shoot it so we’ll have to get out on them. We can also play zone and be effective at times.

“We’ll press some but nothing identity-wise. High school kids struggle if you don’t let them get in their comfort zone, so I’ll look at what we are bad against and we’ll try to find that out with other teams.”

One key to success is enjoying being part of a team.

“We’re having fun at this,” Miller said. “I try to keep it light at times. I talk about what irritates me and they laugh about it.”

The fact Miller has been acquainted with many of the players off the court brings an added dimension to the squad.

“Because my sons are playing I know these kids well and they know me,” Miller noted. “There’s a sense of respect there. We’ve got a good relationship.”

As for a style of coaching, Miller has no set pattern.

“I’ll play the hot hand,” the Paulding head man said. “I don’t have any preconceived ideas as far as this is how to do it. I like to coach on feel.”

After finishing 3-5 in the NWC a year ago, Miller has high expectations this time around.

“Most of the teams lost a lot from last year,” pointed out Miller. “If we play like we can this year we can be in the top part of the conference. Crestview will be a handful, but we feel we can be right there and compete with all of them.”

Crestview, which finished 7-1 in the NWC a year ago, returns first-team all-conference junior Javin Etzler along with second-team senior Derek Stout and honorable mention junior Drew Kline.

Spencerville rolled through the league unbeaten but lost most of that squad. Lincolnview, 4-4 in the NWC a year ago, has a pair of standouts back in seniors Caden Ringwald and Chayten Overholt. Bluffton, also 4-4 last season, returns sophomore Luke Denecker, a first-team NWC performer.

“The key is to win the close games and we’ll have them,” Miller said about contending for the NWC crown. “Some teams win all the close games, that’s how they have a successful season. Last year we had close games but we didn’t win enough to get over the hump. If we can win those we can have a good record.”

The Panthers must also overcome a schedule that finds four of the first five games at home before going on the road for all but five of the 17 remaining contests.

“We didn’t win a home game last year so maybe that’s good,” Miller said.

Staying optimistic is part of the learning process from year one for the Paulding head coach.

“It’s a little more fun this year,” Miller said. “Last year I felt like I was on the beach and the waves hit me and hit me. This year we’ve gotten stronger and that’s really helped us. Maybe we can be a surprise team this year.”