CARLISLE — Every day Andre Anderson is fighting human instinct.
Every day he struggles with the urge to compare this year’s Carlisle basketball team to that of the 2016-17 season, a roster with one of the great senior classes to take the court in Thundering Herd history.
Every day he wins the battle to compare and reflect too much, at least outwardly. Inside, however, he catches himself “every day using the other group as an example.”
“Naturally that’s what’s gonna happen,” the seventh-year coach (94-62) said from his office Monday evening after practice. “And naturally that’s what’s gonna happen when you have success.
“But if we sit back and think it’s just gonna happen and snap our fingers […] we’re gonna be a little upset at the end of the day.”
Can’t blame human nature. Even last year’s squad drew comparisons to the hallowed 1980s Thundering Herd programs. Humans are, after all, imperfect creatures.
And those same humans that saw a bit of the Billy Owens years during the Deshawn Millington era that ended in March in Altoona in a loss to Pine-Richland in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals also likely don’t see a similar run being made from this largely new cast of characters.
The Herd, for their part, will have to forgive those people.
“I like us being underdogs,” senior forward Ki Barnes said. “A lot of people don’t think we’ll still be as good, but I still think we got [the potential] to be right back where we were.”
“We expect nothing less than the year before,” his cousin, senior Gavyn Barnes, said. “We expect to make it to that state championship.”
So in Anderson’s fashion, let’s only rehash the past briefly before turning the page for good.
Led by Millington, who finished third in program history with 1,640 career points, 3-point-shooting center Ethan Houston, 3-point specialist Ben Milligan and rebounding aficionado Nate Barnes, the Herd did something they hadn’t in nearly three decades. Make the state semis. The 21-9 squad won the Mid-Penn Commonwealth, beat Harrisburg at home for the first time in Anderson’s tenure, again made a deep District 3 run and again played at Altoona, finishing a game short of facing eventual state champ Reading.
There. The past is the past.
Anderson told his team early during practice that he would not bring up last season again. He was and is excited to coach this new group and to see what they can do.
So look forward they shall.
The Barnes cousin — down to two now that Nate finished his freshman season impressing with West Chester’s football team — are the new leaders. Not the most talkative pair, they are nonetheless as ready as anyone to take control.
“I look forward to it every game,” said Ki, a 6-foot-5 basketball specimen with a smooth stroke and perhaps the highest upside.
Ki (6.2 ppg last year) will no longer be coming off the bench like he did late last year when consistency issues haunted him. Instead, Anderson expects a big improvement. The senior’s shooting stroke is well known and his handles are top notch. But above the shoulders is what matters most.
“His biggest part has been the mental side of the thing,” the coach said. “Is he gonna know what to run? Is he gonna keep his cool? That kind of stuff.”
And will he bring his best each game, even against lesser competition? Time to find out. Anderson said Ki could play all five positions this year at any point, sometimes as a small-ball center, the point on a beefier lineup, and everything in between.
Gavyn (13.5 ppg), a lion-hearted pinball who fills the slasher role for a team that expects to go with three guards in the starting lineup, is the most well-known commodity on the team. He had sparks last year of brilliance (the first half against the Cougars at home comes to mind) and is capable of spinning and cutting his way to 30 points on any given night.
“He’s one of the most competitive kids I know,” Anderson said. “And we need him around here.”
“I’m more of a threat going to the cup now, and I shoot, too,” the 5-foot-10 Gavyn said.
Senior Joe Mastrangelo, who came up big during the playoffs in several games as a key rebounder, is the starting center at 6-foot-6. A tight end and linebacker in football, he’ll bring grit and toughness to the starting lineup.
“He’s not a stretch-four type of guy, he’s not gonna shoot a bunch of 3s, he’s not gonna make a bunch of post moves,” Anderson said. “But what Joe does very well is he plays tremendous defense, he’s long, he can guard a one if he had to.
“He does his dirty work by getting offensive rebounds. He’s right where he needs to be for dump-offs and rebounds.”
While Anderson didn’t commit to a starting five Monday, senior Eveyon Davis (6-1) will start at guard and junior Howie Rankine (5-10 guard) is a safe bet to be the fifth. The expected top reserves are senior Nigel Newson (5-9 guard), juniors Quintin Myers (5-9, guard), Hunter Hargraves (6-3 wing), Trevor Hamilton (6-7 forward) and Kurtis Ravenel (5-10 forward), and sophomore James Barlow (6-4 forward).
Rankine is a wildcard capable of getting hot for 25 points, Anderson said. Davis and Newson received some of the most minutes last year outside of the returning top trio of Barnes, Barnes and Mastrangelo. Myers, Ravenel and Hargraves project as shooters. And Barlow had a “tremendous fall, came out of nowhere,” Anderson said.
“It’s clicking well,” Ki said.
The Herd will be a little more structured on offense, coach and players said. While there are plenty of athletes to still push quickly in transition, the Herd’s specialty, set pieces will be a bit more common in the half court to take advantage of the Barneses and the new shooters. And the defense will have to rely on a committee approach when it comes to rebounding.
In many ways, Anderson has to coach this group more than recent years. A lot of new faces require it. But it’s a welcomed challenge.
“I love it, man,” he said. “There’s nothing like it. And that’s just the basketball side of it.”
Carlisle opens the season with its customary Carlisle Classic tournament against South Western, Hempfield and Mechanicsburg. The Herd host South Western at 7:30 in Friday’s second game.
Early season matchups to circle include a Dec. 20 road trip to Harrisburg, then a date with the Red Knights in Reading two days later, part of a 18-day stretch where the Herd don’t play at home.