By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — PENDLETON — It's rare that a team is asked to replace so many significant parts in consecutive seasons, but that's the challenge Pendleton Heights boys basketball coach Brian Hahn is tasked with this winter.
Lost to graduation were leading scorer Brogan Gary (15.5 points per game), top post threat Kurt Talbert (12.4 points, 6 rebounds) and defensive stalwart Peyton McCardwell (22 steals).
Throw in the voluntary departure of guard Matt Brown, who hit nearly 46 percent of his 3-point attempts a year ago, and the Arabians have a little more than 17 points per game returning from a team that finished 15-10 last season and won the program's third straight sectional title.
The bulk of that scoring comes from junior Sean McDermott, who averaged 12.4 points per game and shot nearly 41 percent from 3-point range. But he's dealing with an unknown medical issue, and his status for the season is unclear.
Because of privacy concerns and the fluid nature of the situation, school officials were not available for comment on McDermott.
Hahn, however, was very open about the general basketball-related challenges facing his team.
"It's new every year," he said. "There's always an adjustment for the kids. There's an adjustment to the level of play and also an adjustment to the aggressiveness necessary to score."
The cupboard is far from barren.
Sophomore Caleb Hardy will take over Talbert's role in the post, and senior Levi Buck will assume primary ballhandling responsibilities after showing promise last season while Gary was injured.
In many ways, however, McCardwell's will be the most difficult position to replace. An undersized power forward, the former football linebacker brought a rugged tenacity to the Arabians on both ends of the court.
"The thing with Peyton was not just physical strength," Hahn said. "He had great basketball intelligence, and he was so absolutely consistent. You knew exactly what you were going to get from him every time."
Senior Austin Brizendine will be asked to step into that role.
Sophomore Kenton Dunham also will have significantly expanded duties after playing primarily with the junior varsity a year ago. His last name is familiar to fans throughout the county, of course, after his brother Kellen — who now stars at Butler — set the school's scoring record.
"There are some things he can do offensively," Hahn said of the younger Dunham. "He's a lot different than his brother. He's not as tall, but he's quicker."
Defense has been the hallmark of Hahn's eight seasons in Pendleton, however. The Arabians have won 76 games in the past four years while never allowing more than 48.1 points per game. In each of the past two seasons, Pendleton Heights has surrendered just 43.9 points per game.
Gary, Talbert and McCardwell were big pieces of that effort. And they won't easily be replaced.
"That's the real challenge this year," Hahn said. "We've never been a big team, but we're going to be even a little bit smaller than we have been in years past. Defensively, that's going to be a real challenge."
There won't be much time for the Arabians to find their way.
Pendleton Heights hosts Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Delta to open the season Saturday, then it hits the road for games against Westfield (Dec. 3) and Hamilton Southeastern (Dec. 7).
Hahn likes stacking the non-conference schedule with quality opponents. He believes the tough competition helps the team accomplish its three primary goals that remain the same each season — winning the county championship, the conference crown and the sectional title.
It might take some time for this team to come together, but Hahn is confident it will improve throughout the season.
"That's the goal," he said. "You're not going to be playing your best basketball in December. With a young team, a lot of times that's just the way it's going to be. But we feel coming into this season we can be a good team and we can compete with anybody."
Hoops Preview This is the 10th story in an 11-part series previewing the boys basketball season. Previous installments in the series are available at theheraldbulletin.com.