By Gregg A. Sims
LOOGOOTEE — Loogootee is a town that certainly enjoys its basketball.
The community often lives and dies with its Lions, but it’s a town that also knows how to take care of its heroes.
Just ask Loogootee senior center Conner Wittmer who has certainly experienced the highs and lows of a basketball career.
Wittmer was the leading scorer with 16 points in Loogootee’s 55-52 Class A championship game against Rockville last winter.
He was also the sophomore who missed the last-second shot in Loogootee’s sectional loss to North Daviess the previous season.
To say the least, the community let him know they were behind the three-time All-Blue Chip Conference selection in both instances.
“I want to be a leader for the guys,” Wittmer said. “I feel like I’ve experienced a lot in this game. I feel like I’ve certainly known the highs and lows of a career. When I missed that shot, it was hard. The hardest things was seeing all of those seniors, and knowing their careers were over. After it happened, I had a lot of local support. It made me want to work harder and become a better player. To learn how to deal with that adversity was a real learning experience.”
The Lion center believes the defending state champions will have bullseyes on their backs as Loogootee begins its season today against Attica at 10:30 a.m. at Jack Butcher Arena. He also realizes that they will have to play the season without graduated guard Bryant Ackerman who had the ball in his hands most of the past year.
“You always have a bit of a target on your back when you have Loogootee across your chest,” Wittmer said.
“When you add state champs to that label, that just makes it a little bit bigger.”
Wittmer isn’t unaccustomed to having people ask how the Lions will react with their guard gone to college. He thinks the team is up to the challenge.
“The question is how do you replace him, how do you replace the scoring?” Wittmer said. “Well, you don’t. We don’t have one guy who’s going to come out and replace that. It’s going to be a team effort with a lot of ball movement and a lot of team play together.”
But he also realizes the Lions have plenty of players who are now seniors and juniors returning from that state championship team who are ready to get the season started.
It’s a different team, but with the same goal,” Wittmer said. “We want to get back out here and get after it. We’re the only team in Loogootee who has returning players to know what it takes to get there. We are ready to get back to work.”
Wittmer believes the Lions have plenty of offensive weapons returning with players like Matt Mathies and Colin Nelson returning. He believes the Lions have new weapons on the way.
“I feel that with Cam Wagler on the floor, we have one more shooter,” Wittmer said. “We will have five guys on the floor this year that area capable of hitting a jump shot from anywhere on the court.”
Wittmer likes what he has seen from teammates who are moving the ball, both in and out.
He thinks ball movement will be one of the keys to success this winter. He also knows he is likely to see plenty of double teaming when he is in the post.
“We are going to see times when there will be a lot of doubling-down against us with me in the post,” Wittmer said. “But when we do, we have guys who can shoot. Our ball movement has been good. We had good movement last year, but the ball never sticks. It’s constantly moving to move the defense.”
With plenty of veterans returning for the title defense, Wittmer believes there is a positive outlook as the Lions begin the season. Some of that tournament success will be helpful in the new campaign.
“We have a lot of seniors this year, and we all know it’s our last go around,” Wittmer said. “No matter what happens, we don’t want to be disappointed. We want to get back to work every day. Knock on wood, but you never know — every game could be your last — you never know. I just tell my teammates to go out in every practice, and every game, to go out and play like you’ll never touch the ball again. We excited about getting ready, and anticipating a new year. I feel we have the personnel to be very successful if we do the things that we know we need to do.”