Last season was perhaps the best for the complete basketball program as the boys won their first region championship ever and the girls finished as the region runner-up. But first-round exits at state left a bitter taste.
The Bruins finished with a 23-4 record, but a loss at home to Grady in the first round ended the postseason run.
From that team, Northwest lost The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year for 2012-13, O’Shea Hill, who graduated, as well as a lot of depth around him.
Senior point guard Tevin McDaniel and forward Tanner Bailey are the only returning starters from last year, and last year’s sixth man — Caleb Storey — is the team’s leading returning scorer after averaging 10 points per game.
But despite the loss of Hill and the lack of a proven scorer, Bruins coach Ryan Richards is optimistic about the season.
“I think we have a really strong nucleus coming back,” Richards said. “We won a lot of games last year, and the guys coming back got a ton of experience last year with a lot of minutes at the varsity level.”
Nick Bramblett and Aaron Ball — a senior who missed all of last season after a knee injury — will be relied on in the middle, which Andy Whisenant on the wing.
“We have a lot of depth,” Richards said. “The biggest issue is finding time to play them. We don’t have any really big guys, but they are all pretty good.”
For the Lady Bruins, Halle Ford returns at point guard and will be a four-year starter. Coach Greg Brown — he’s in his third season in charge after leading the team to a 19-9 mark last season, which ended with a loss to Marist — Northwest makes no bones about putting a lot of pressure on her shoulders this season.
“That is where it will all start for us,” Brown said. “She has a lot of experience and has made a lot of big plays in some big games. We know what we are getting with her, and she will have to be the leader of this team and carry a lot of responsibility on her back.”
Ford averaged nine points and six assists last year, and she will be joined by returning starter Macy Weeks, a post. Mallory Souther, an offensive spark off the bench last season, will step into a starting spot in the paint as well.
“She has played a lot and knows what I expect,” Brown said. “She can score and can get to the basket.”
How successful of a season this year is for the Lady Bruins may depend on their youth. Sophomores Mary Kate Allen and Peyton Maret — both 5-10 — will see plenty of time. Brown’s style is to play a lot of people in a fast-tempo game, so there will be a lot of young players on the floor.
Northwest’s season opens at 7 p.m. Friday at Tennessee’s East Hamilton.