By Becky Kimbrell-Norris
WAKE FOREST — Heading into his fourth year with Heritage High School, boys basketball coach Pat Kennedy is seeing the roots of his program take hold.
And coming off the Huskies 7-18 season in 2012-13, there’s plenty of room for optimism with a team that lost just two starters.
Heritage brings back four key varsity players who were all starters at one point or another and expect big things from some others, who competed on the Huskie’s, 16-4, junior varsity team last season.
“We do not have any transfers and all of our players started their high school career with our program,” Kennedy said. “The guys already know what to expect from us and I like it that way.”
“It takes a while to get new players to buy into our system,” Kennedy added.
The Huskies have never been to the state tournament but this season, their optimism is understandable and legitimate, according to Kennedy.
“We still have a ways to go but I think this team will challenge and try to win the Cap 8 championship and make the state playoffs,” he said. “They are realistic goals that the coaches and players have and if we can stay healthy, we will surprise a lot of teams.”
“We have the mindset to accomplish these things,” Kennedy added.
A rebuilding season a year ago may pay dividends this year. The players got valuable experience, which should make them better.
“Defensively, we were great last year but offensively, we struggled,” Kennedy said. “This year in order to compete; we have to score with teams.”
Their two-point victory over eventual 4A state runner-up Broughton was a highlight last season.
“We held a lot of teams and had some close losses,” Kennedy said.
The Huskies averaged just 42 points last year and the bigger hope is that the lumps taken in 2012-13 translate to victories this time around.
Heritage will benefit from the return of its two seniors, Nick Grover and Josh Katowitz along with Jared Joyner and Gershom Ejoni, both juniors.
Grover, a 5-10 shooting guard is finally healthy after dealing with a back injury the past two seasons and then suffered a bout with mono.
“He’s a three point shooter and I hope he stays healthy and has a great year,” Kennedy said.
Standing six foot seven, Katowitz is Heritage’s tallest player.
The power forward averaged about eight points last season and led the Huskies in rebounds with 120.
“My goal for the last two years has been to make the state playoffs, “Katowitz said, “and this year, I expect for us to do that.”
Katowitz said the team will take one game at a time in hopes of reaching that goal.
“We have a lot of talent from our JV program and we’re really excited to start the season,” he said.
Kennedy said Katowitz gives Heritage a really good post presence and does a great job on the board.
“Nick and Josh are solid defenders,” Kennedy added. “They are also providing great leadership for their teammates.”
Joyner, who plays the point guard position scored around nine points a game last season but missed several games with a hip injury.
“He’s fully recovered and he will do a great job running our offense,” Kennedy said.
Ejoni, who is 6-4, is also strong under the boards, pulling down 72 rebounds last season.
“He brings a tremendous amount of character to the team and is a threat under the basket,” Kennedy said.
Along with eight players from the junior varsity program, the personnel on this year’s team will allow Kennedy to run a more aggressive unit.
“We go pretty deep and have depth,” he said, “and that’s a luxury we do have, “Kennedy said.
“We have good athleticism and this is the quickest Heritage team I have coached,” he added. “While we’re not very big, we have guys who can get up and down the court.”
“It’s a lot of fun coaching them,” Kennedy added.
Heritage will play non-conference opponents Rolesville High, Knightdale and East Wake and will participate with 16 other teams in the South Granville Tournament after Christmas.
“We like to play teams, which are nearby,” Kennedy said. “And we think the holiday tournaments are great and our guys like to play in them. It’s a great time for them to bond.”
The Huskies will open up the 2013-14 season Tuesday at Rolesville High School. Game time is 7 p.m.