Early in the 2018-19 season, circumstances forced Franklin County boys basketball coach Eric Ebrens' hand. An injury to Clayton Spurlock made him essentially scrap that year's goals and play for the future. Starting a handful of freshmen, the Wildcats went 2-19 and lost 13 straight at one point.

In “year two,” after adding extra pieces, the club surpassed that win total before January. Through some still rocky stretches, the team improved for an 8-13 finish and followed a 3-3 February with a 47-38 loss to Batesville at the Connersville sectional.

“We had very little experience coming back, so we knew it was going to be a rough year but would pay dividends the next three years,” said Ebrens of the two-win campaign.

“We saw significant growth and were competitive in most of our games,” he went on. “Our kids did a good job of working hard in the offseason, getting stronger in the weight room. They knew they had to do that to be able to compete at the varsity level.”

This winter, underclassmen accounted for 72% of playing time, 83% of total scoring (50.4 team average per game), 70% of rebounds, and 71% of made 3-pointers. Those stats clearly point toward a rosier future.

“They can't be satisfied with winning eight games,” said the head coach. “That's the main thing that concerns me and I don't see that with this young group.

“They've got to go into this offseason with the same mindset of last year,” he continued. “If they want to do anything, they have to continue to work hard on fundamental skills and doing those things to make themselves individually better, so it helps us as a team.”

Making a huge leap forward this year was sophomore Chad Cox. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard led the team in scoring (16.6), rebounding (5.5), made free throws (84) and 3-point percentage (44). The team's most valuable player finished just behind classmate Bridger Bolos in assists (56-52) and was all-tournament at the Wildcats' holiday event Dec. 28. He was rewarded by Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference coaches with an all-conference nod – FC's first honoree since 2017.

His total minutes were surpassed only by freshman Brant Ertel, who responded to the coaching staff's confidence with excellent overall numbers.
“Brant is special,” Ebrens confirmed. “In 26 years of coaching, I can't think of another freshman who contributed the way he was able to contribute. Players like him don't come around very often, so we'll try to enjoy (his time) and see where we go.”

As a ninth grader, the 6-1 guard put in 12.2 tallies per game, shot 32% from downtown and paced the team in steals with 29.

The Wildcats will lose only small forward Drew Dixon to graduation, though his 35% acumen from long range will be missed, along with his leadership. He and junior Garrett Ertel were handed the Wildcat Awards for their strong examples in the locker room.

Other postseason awards went to junior Lucas Stacy for his team-leading 16 blocks, as well as Most Improved to 6-4 sophomore JD Stokes.

“JD went from the freshman team to starting on varsity, and sometimes it looked as if he took steps backward, but he got better each week and wants to get better,” said Ebrens. “He's kind of key to how far we go, if he can develop in the low post and handle his own there.”

By late February, the Wildcats had matured enough to secure their first and only EIAC win – a 46-44 thriller at Connersville.

“It wasn't perfect, but a good example of the guys following the scouting report on offense and defense,” said the coach. “On defense, we had to have bodies on (6-7 Jacob) Brown and there were guys we weren't going to let shoot. Offensively, we knew Connersville's guards were small and we could shoot over top of them.”

That led to nine 3s and the rivalry victory. Another win that could be labeled an upset was a 63-51 home triumph over Oldenburg Academy on Jan. 3. OA went on to win its Class A sectional in March.

“Understanding the value of a game plan or scouting report comes with experience,” Ebrens added.

The Wildcats lost three EIAC games in the first three weeks of the season, a scheduling quirk that hurts a young team.

“Looking forward, we're not going to be a young team next year,” said the coach, “so we should have confidence going into those early games.

Hopefully we can compete in the upper echelon of the conference the next two years.”

Greensburg, later a sectional champ, ran the table in the EIAC; Ebrens predicts East Central will be the team to beat next winter.

The recent athletic hiatus nationwide should not greatly affect FC's offseason, unless it were to creep into June.

“Typically, I don't see the kids after June because of fall sports,” said Ebrens. “The great thing about basketball is you don't need a facility, just a ball and a court. They can also do push-ups, burpees, or speed/agility drills from home. I feel certain they'll work hard, but all schools are going through these issues.”

Sophomore Hunter Geis was the junior varsity Wildcat Award winner, Peyton McCreary for the freshmen. Soph Nathan Stringer led the JV in scoring and Jace Lee took MVP honors for the ninth graders.