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Huntington University men's basketball coach Ty Platt says he will go anywhere to recruit good, solid character kids for the Foresters program.
He has not had to go very far to find them lately.
Of the 12 players on Huntington's roster, six are from programs within the Northeast Hoosier Conference. That includes three from Columbia City, two from Carroll and one from DeKalb.
The half-dozen players range from Carroll product and senior Shane Merryman, an NAIA All-American Third Team member a season ago, to three freshmen from Columbia City who have had a big impact early on for the No. 13-ranked Foresters (12-1).
“I like northeast Indiana kids because I know how a lot of these guys are being coached,” Platt said. “The NHC in particular is just full of quality coaches, so we just try and rob that conference as much as we can.
“We'll take them all because I know what kind of level of competition they are playing (and) I know what kind of quality coaching they are getting. So the transition makes it really nice.”
That easy transition has been on display this season for Huntington. Freshman guard Derek Hinen leads the three Columbia City products who have produced relatively quickly just a year out of the prep ranks.
Hinen has started all 13 games for Huntington and is second on the team averaging 12.7 points per game. Playing the point guard position, he also leads the team in assists at 5.3 per game.
Hinen's teammates in both high school and college have also made impacts, with Daniel Woll dropping 7.6 points per game and Drew Benedict averaging 6.3 points.
Juniors Ryan Boester (DeKalb) and Tyler Ault (Carroll) round out the Foresters' NHC contingent.
It has been a pleasant surprise for Platt to get such contributions from the freshman class.
“I got to be honest, no I didn't think they would make as of an impact as what they have,” Platt said about his rookie group. “I can't take any credit for it. It's just them being well-coached in high school and coming in with a giving spirit.
“(They) put the team ahead of (themselves) and that's been a real blessing.”
Seeing familiar faces on the court has made the switch from high school to college easier for players like Hinen.
“Basketball is basketball,” Hinen said. “Just take care of the ball and just get it to your playmakers. That's what I'm trying to do. That's what I did at Columbia City (and) same here (at Huntington).
“It is almost an easier game with so many great players around you.”
The biggest factor for Platt with his underclassmen has been the way they have bought into what the Foresters are trying to do. Everyone knows the offensive focus is Merryman, who has dominated in the paint with a 21.9 scoring average and a 9.0 rebounding average this season.
How players have complemented Merryman and also given him the ball in positions to succeed has been huge in Huntington's hot start.
“The guys who have been playing for us out of this incoming freshman class have just been phenomenal,” Platt said.
Even with just one loss in the first 13 contests, Platt warns that the “meat and potatoes” portion of the schedule remains with the majority of the Crossroads League slate looming, beginning Jan. 4 with a visit to Taylor.
“The best part of (our record) is the 3-0 in the conference,” Platt said. “That sounds kind of funny to people, but those are the three most important games we have played to this point.
“Every year is different, but the chemistry of this team (and) the talent level is really, really deep.”
That is evidently what you get from heavily recruiting the NHC.