Gavyn Barnes (above) and Carlisle have to replace a big senior class from last year's 21-win squad. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
HARRISBURG — Gavyn Barnes has heard the cloudy projections shrouding Carlisle’s basketball program and the powerfully built 5-9 senior is determined to prove those countless doubters wrong.
So are his teammates.
Sure, Barnes & Co. are completely aware of the former teammates that have moved on to more basketball at a higher level or whatever they’ve chosen to do. Yet, at the same time, those still in the remarkably proud Thundering Herd locker room know what they’re capable of.
Following deep, deep runs that carried Carlisle to the PIAA’s Class 4A quarterfinals two seasons ago and to the Class 6A semis in March — while thrilling a community that simply adores basketball — Barnes believes another successful season is just another timely inbounds play away.
Might be a Herd squad that looks quite a bit different than the one that was on the floor in Altoona during a season-ending loss to Pine-Richland, but it’s still Carlisle basketball and that means so much to the youngsters who spend winters in Gene Evans Gymnasium sporting green and gold.
Granted, players such as two-time all-state selection DeShawn Millington, Ethan Houston, Ben Milligan, Nate Barnes and several others are gone from the feisty 21-9 outfit that nearly willed its way to Hershey’s Giant Center the past two seasons. Still, Gavyn Barnes is ready to scrap.
“We got a lot to prove,” Barnes said Sunday afternoon, just before the Herd took on Mid-Penn Commonwealth Division playmate Harrisburg in a preseason showcase event at the ‘Burg’s Kimber Gymnasium. “A lot of people think we’re down because we lost DeShawn and Ben and Ethan.
“We’re not down. We’re just putting everything back together and we’re still going to be the same team that we were. We’re still going to be one of those teams that can compete in the finals.”
Barnes isn’t the only one sporting Carlisle green to have heard the blowback.
“Plenty of doubters, man, plenty of doubters, and I like it that way. We all like it that way,” admitted seventh-year head coach Andre Anderson, the former Herd basketball great who played on the first Vermont team to reach the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.
“There’s a group of kids, 14 kids, that are gonna go out and try to prove you wrong, because they don’t like to lose. When you have that competitive spirit, good things are bound to happen. They just need to know that it’s not just gonna come. They’ve got to work. They gotta work for it first. They can’t just go out and think they’re gonna win every game. They can’t take anybody for granted.
“If they work hard and come out with that chip on their shoulder like we have at Carlisle, they’ll be fine,” Anderson added. “I can guarantee you there’s a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, they’re not gonna have that same kind of year. They’re not gonna have the same personnel, yada, yada, yada.’
“These kids eat that up and they don’t like that.”
The No. 3 scorer on a Carlisle squad that flourished in the transition game fueled by the electric Millington and the inside-outside work of the 6-7 Houston — Millington is playing at Palm Beach State, a Florida junior college, while Houston is a freshman at Bloomsburg — Barnes averaged a shade over 13 points per outing as a junior. He also took on the opposition’s top offensive player.
Even if the adversary on any particular night stood six inches taller or more.
“I just see it as heart over height,” suggested the 190-pound Barnes, who hopes to play college football. “It’s all about you wanting it, and you can guard that person across from you. You say, ‘All right, I’m better than him.’ … I’m going to outhustle him and I’ll get everywhere to stop him.”
“The thing about him that you don’t see when you look at him is his competitive spirit,” Anderson remarked. “He’s a kid that hates to lose. He’s a kid that’s willing to put his team on his back, on his shoulders. He’s just got that competitive edge on most of the kids he goes against.”
While Barnes is ready to go, so is his cousin, Ki Barnes, a 6-5 senior (7.5 ppg) capable of playing all five positions on the court. This Barnes also wants the ball in his hands when it really matters, whether he’s trying to take a defender to the hole or pulling up for one of his refined jumpers.
“We’ve got to make sure we can make him be more consistent,” Gavyn Barnes said. “He’s gotta be ready to score, too, and keep playing lots of defense. He’s probably going to have to guard their bigger player. He’s got to be ready to score. … Just being consistent with it.”
The third returnee who saw significant minutes during Carlisle’s sparkling postseason run — following a fifth-place finish in the District 3-6A tournament, the Herd sidelined Coatesville, Abraham Lincoln and Emmaus before falling to Pine-Richland 65-60 — is much-improved 6-6 senior Joe Mastrangelo.
Other veterans who figure to log minutes as starters or important cogs in Anderson’s projected nine-man rotation are 6-0 senior guard Eveyon Davis, 5-10 junior guard Howie Rankine, 6-7 junior forward Trevor Hamilton and 5-10 senior guard Nigel Newson.
Swingman Hunter Hargraves, a 6-3 junior, will make the jump from the junior varsity squad. Also making a move up the depth chart is persistent 6-5 sophomore James Barlow, who spent last season playing on Carlisle’s ninth-grade contingent.
All of them will be tested by a perennially grueling Mid-Penn Commonwealth Division slate featuring hammers such as State College, Chambersburg, Harrisburg, Central Dauphin East and neighboring rival Cumberland Valley. Another testy nonleague schedule packed with games against reigning state champ Reading, Parkland, Coatesville, Central York and possibly Hempfield will test the Herd.
“It gets us ready well, because all the teams we play in season are all the teams that are gonna be in the postseason that we’re gonna run into,” Gavyn Barnes said of Commonwealth Division play.
“So, all the teams we’re playing are just making us even better and making us more prepared for when it really counts in the long run.”
Anderson knows how difficult Carlisle’s league competition can be — especially since Carlisle, State College, Harrisburg and CD East reached the state tournament and won opening-round games.
“There’s no easy nights. There’s no easy nights,” Anderson stated. “It’s gonna be tough to get back [to the state semifinals], but that’s a goal of ours. It’s always a goal of ours to take it one more step than we did last year. These kids are coming in like that. They don’t want to hear the stuff like, ‘Oh, DeShawn’s gone, Ethan’s gone.’ They’re not trying to hear that.
“That’s a good thing that we have here and that’s a good way to get started. That confidence and that chip [on those shoulders], I think that’s gonna take us a long way. I think we can make some noise.”
Even without the likes of Houston, Milligan and Nate Barnes — but especially Millington, a four-year starter who ranks third (1,640) on Carlisle’s all-time scoring list behind only Billy Owens and Jeff Lebo yet one spot above assistant coach Jordan Stasyszyn and three in front of Anderson.
“It’s going to be tough,” Anderson admitted. “We’ve got to coach these kids up to learn how to play without him, because he demanded the ball a lot. The ball was in his hands a lot, whether it be against the press, whether it be in our half-court offense. It’s going to be different.
“It’s not going to be one person. I can’t snap my fingers and say this kid is gonna take DeShawn’s spot and do everything DeShawn does. It’s going to have to be a group effort. The good thing about this group is we have kids that are confident and we have kids that think they can be like DeShawn.”
Count Gavyn Barnes among Carlisle’s confident players, most of whom are carrying that prominent chip on their respective shoulders.
“We’ve got a lot of younger players ready to play,” said the determined Barnes, who genuinely believes Rankine is poised to have a breakout season. “They’re playing well all through the offseason, so we’re really looking forward to this season coming up.
“I think we’re gonna be just fine without DeShawn and the other players that we had.”
Anderson, who fronts a staff that includes fellow Carlisle alums such as Ryan Gordon, Sean Lehman, Jon Eavenson, Stasyszyn and Bill Owens Sr., isn’t going to quash his program’s enthusiasm. Especially since the Herd has made its deepest state tournament runs since Billy Owens led Dave Lebo-piloted clubs to four consecutive Class AAAA crowns from 1985-88.
“We’ve done that. We’ve been able to do that. We’re not ready to stop here,” Anderson remarked. “We’re going to do everything we can. We’ve got guys who’ve seen what can happen and they know what’s up. They know what it takes.
“The good thing is we’ve got three significant pieces from last year’s playoff run and we’re looking for some big things from them.”