Continuing the climb is the goal for Lincoln Trail College's men's basketball team this season.
The Statesmen have improved their win total every season during head coach Luke Stuckey's tenure and they want that trend to continue this season.
And if they do, the Statesmen will have a chance to be regarded as one of the best teams in the country.
"I think we have a chance to be really good this year," Stuckey said. "From a talent standpoint and from a depth standpoint, this is the best we've looked in the preseason in my tenure here. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic."
One thing Stuckey is excited about is the amount of experience the Statesmen have this season. They return several key players from last year's team, along with a couple of transfers and a prep-school player.
"We return a lot of experienced guys that got to be a part of a lot of wins last year, as well as some tough losses," Stuckey said. "Most of the guys that are going to see a lot of minutes are not fresh out of high school. That gives us a lot of experience we hope to utilize."
Heading that group of returnees are sophomores Dante Combs (6-4, Michigan City, Ind.), Jaylon Holmes (6-6, Merrillville, Ind.), Alex Heath (5-10, Cleveland, Ohio), Lamar Lillard (6-4, Hopkins Park), Meeko Bond (6-7, Gary, Ind.) and Tad Kapek (6-8, Czech Republic).
"Dante was our leading scorer last year and we expect the same type of production out of him this year. He's had some Division I offers and we are expecting a big year out of him," Stuckey said. "Jaylon has had a tremendous offseason coming off a really good freshman year. He is so versatile and is one of the most athletic kids in our league. He can beat you in a variety of ways. He has also had some Division I offers and we are expecting a big year out of him, too. Alex played a lot of minutes for us last year and always brings a lot of energy. We are going to lean on him to be a distributor and hope he can score more for us this year. We have been happy with how Lamar has progressed over the summer. He had a significant role last year and we expect him to be an even better scorer than last year and also be one of our better defenders. Meeko has also had a great offseason, as his body has improved and his confidence has improved. He gives us scoring in the paint and gives us a presence inside. Injuries hurt Tad last year, but he has developed his shot and he gives us versatility with his length and being able to defend on the perimeter."
Two more returners from last year - redshirts Xavier Roberson (6-4, Baton Rouge, La.) and Lathan Falls (6-4, Oakland City, Ind.) - are expected to contribute as well following a year of seasoning.
"Xavier is a very good athlete and brings a physical presence," Stuckey said. "He is undersized, but is probably our strongest kid. Like Xavier, Lathan got a lot of experience through practicing with us last year. He can really shoot the ball and knows that's his role and he does it well. You can't leave him open."
Furthering the experience level of the team are a pair of sophomores - Cam Maddox (6-2, Louisville, Ky.) and Greg Couson (6-7, Tifton, Ga.) - who transferred from other strong JUCO programs.
"Cam played at Three Rivers last year. He is a good athlete and a good shooter that we are going to depend on to knock down shots," Stuckey said. "Greg came from another strong program (Central Georgia Tech) and brings a lot of experience. He brings a great presence in the post and can really score down low. He is our most aggressive low post threat."
Added to that group is a talented crop of freshmen that includes a pair of local players in former Robinson High School standout Chance Black and Lawrenceville graduate Zeus Marsh.
"Chance has done a great job honing his role as a shooter," Stuckey said. "He gives our offense spacing and is a deadly shooter on the perimeter that teams can't leave alone. Zeus has done a great job bringing energy and is a great athlete that can play several positions."
Rounding out the freshman class are Ahmad Price (6-3, Louisville, Ky.), J.J. Reed (6-6, Paducah, Ky.) and Eric Moenkhaus (6-3, Greenwood, Ind.).
"The best way to describe Ahmad is a winner," Stuckey said. "He is a big point guard that can do a lot of different things and will do whatever it takes to help us win. J.J. has good size and is a good scorer. He can beat you in a lot of different ways and will cause matchup problems for other teams. Eric is a really good offensive player. He is a great shooter, a very good athlete and is a competitive kid with a great work ethic. We will count on him to score for us."
Meanwhile, two more freshmen - Tobias Thompson (6-7, Louisville, Ky.) and Aaron Tompkins (6-1, Terre Haute) - will redshirt this year, according to Stuckey.
In addition to experience, Stuckey believes depth will be a strength for this team,
"With the amount of depth we have, our roster can withstand a long season," Stuckey said. "I feel like we can go to different people at any time and not have a big drop-off. That is a big luxury to have."
While a set rotation and specific style of play has not yet been determined, one thing Stuckey knows is this team is going to be aggressive on both ends of the floor.
"We are going to try to wear teams out," Stuckey said. "We want to pressure the ball and come at you in waves on defense. The big difference with that this year is our guards are bigger and better defensively. I believe we can force other teams to turn the ball over and our guards can also rebound and get us into our offensive quickly. Offensively, we want to run the entire game. We want to make teams defend all five guys on the floor for 40 minutes."
Even though they want to push the pace, Stuckey added they need to do it under control and not commit silly turnovers.
"We can't beat ourselves," Stuckey said. "We have to limit our turnovers. If we take care of the ball, we are going to be tough to beat."
The Statesmen were a tough team to beat last year, as they were competitive in virtually every game they played, but they were not able to close the deal in some of the games. That is something Stuckey knows will have to improve this season.
"We have to win those close games this year," Stuckey said. "We took a big step forward last year, but we want to do it again this year. Our sophomores gained valuable experience and we are going to rely on them to help us with those types of games."
Stuckey also knows wins never come easy with the schedule they play, as their conference and Region are among the toughest in the nation.
"It is a gauntlet every night, so we are going to have to be consistent," Stuckey said. "But, I believe we have a chance to be in the hunt for a GRAC championship and a Region championship. It will be a challenge getting to that next level, but we not only want to get there, but stay there. Our goal is to make Lincoln Trail one of the top programs in junior college basketball."
2019-20 Lincoln Trail College Statesmen Basketball Roster
No. Name Yr. Ht. Pos. Hometown
0 Xavier Roberson RS-Fr. 6-4 F Baton Rouge, La.
1 Lamar Lillard So. 6-4 G Hopkins Park, Ill.
2 Ahmad Price Fr. 6-3 G Louisville, Ky.
3 Cam Maddox So. 6-2 G Louisville, Ky.
4 Greg Couson RS-So. 6-7 F Tifton, Ga.
5 Dante Combs So. 6-4 G Michigan City, Ind.
10 Tad Kapek So. 6-8 F Czech Republic
11 Chance Black Fr. 6-1 G Robinson, Ill.
12 Zeus Marsh Fr. 6-4 F Lawrenceville, Ill.
15 J.J. Reed Fr. 6-6 F Paducah, Ky.
21 Lathan Falls RS-Fr. 6-4 G Oakland City, Ind.
22 Tobias Thompson Fr. 6-7 F Louisville, Ky.
23 Eric Moenkhaus Fr. 6-3 G Greenwood, Ind.
24 Jaylon Holmes So. 6-6 G Merrillville, Ind.
30 Alex Heath So. 5-10 G Cleveland, Ohio
32 Aaron Tompkins Fr. 6-1 G Terre Haute, Ind.
40 Meeko Bond So. 6-7 F Gary, Ind.
Head coach: Luke Stuckey
Assistant coaches: Spencer Koch, Jonathan Finkel
2019-20 Lincoln Trail College Statesmen Basketball Schedule
Date Opponent Time
11-1 at OCC Rotary Classic vs. McHenry County W 127-84
11-2 at OCC Rotary Classic vs. Quakerdale Prep W 117-46