As his team embarks on a postseason journey that could end in a second straight Class 4A title, New Albany coach Jim Shannon said the Bulldogs are ready.
“Until someone beats us, we’re still the team to beat,” Shannon said. “We respect everybody out there. We fear absolutely no one. We’re going to start the tournament with a pep in our step and be ready to go.”
New Albany (21-3), the No. 1 team in the season’s final Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll released Sunday evening, will begin its journey Tuesday night in the Seymour Sectional — a sectional full of Hoosier Hills Conference brethren — against Jennings County (13-10), which lost 84-55 to New Albany on Feb. 2.
By virtue of last year’s title, Shannon admitted his team has some built-in advantages in the postseason.
“We’re way more experienced than anyone else,” he said. “We have tournament experience. We have state championship experience. I believe 100 percent we’ll be fine. We’re extremely confident. It will take a great effort to put us out. (But) it’s not impossible. … “Everybody thinks we’re not as good (as last season). I beg to differ. I think we’re just as good.”
After a 3-2 start to begin the season, the Bulldogs won 18 of 19 games, losing only at Columbus East when star Romeo Langford didn’t play because he was still recovering from a finger injury. One of the early losses was to talent-packed La Lumiere, a non-IHSAA prep school from LaPorte.
Shannon said this team compares favorably to last year’s championship squad.
“They didn’t read the headlines that we’re going to repeat,” Shannon said. “They understand we’re not going to repeat unless we play hard and we play well. I think we’ve been doing that. … Nobody’s going to roll out the red carpet: ‘You’ve got Romeo. Here’s another state championship.’ So we’ve had that on our back – the bullseye – on our back the whole year.”
As anyone would say, Shannon admits the New Albany team starts with Langford in many ways. Langford – the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect in the 2018 class, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings – carries offers from Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, UCLA and all of the other top basketball schools in the country.
“He’s not chasing points – and he could,” Shannon said. “He knows he’s being mentioned with some of the best players in the history of the state. He never knows how many (points) he gets. He never asks after a game. Usually, we have to tell him.”
Langford, who is averaging nearly 29 points a game and nine rebounds, said he isn’t thinking about the recruiting process now and is focused on another state title.
“It’s our main goal to win the state,” Langford said. “We want our seniors to go out like last year.”
Langford isn’t New Albany’s only weapon. Senior Isaac Hibbard recently moved into the school’s top 10 all-time scoring list.
“A lot of it starts with Hibbard,” Shannon said. “He’s the one who stayed (after practice) before Romeo. When Isaac was a freshman, he stayed after school and after practice. He’s always stayed.”
Langford said Hibbard is the team’s vocal leader.
“He’s a motivator,” Langford said of Hibbard. “He gets us going in practice.”
Hibbard is averaging 13 points an outing and junior Sean East is scoring at a clip of 12.7 points per game. Freshman Julien Hunter is doing his part with 6.2 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Tuesday night’s sectional schedule
All times p.m.
Class 4A at Seymour
Jeffersonville (14-10) vs. Seymour (8-14), 6; New Albany (21-3) vs. Jennings County (13-10), 7:30
Class 3A at Salem
North Harrison (11-11) vs. Brownstown (21-2), 7
Class 2A at South Ripley
South Ripley (12-11) vs. Austin (9-14), 6
Class 2A at Crawford County
Henryville (19-5) vs. Providence (20-2), 6; Eastern Pekin (5-17) vs. Clarksville (12-10), 7:30
Class A at Borden
Borden (11-11) vs. Medora (3-19), 6; Orleans (5-18) vs. West Washington (17-6), 7:30
Class A at New Washington
New Washington (15-9) vs. Rock Creek (13-10), 6; Christian Academy (11-13) vs. Shawe Memorial (1-21), 7:30