North Farmington has more seniors on its varsity boys basketball team than any in recent memory, maybe in the history of the program.
Twelve of the 14 players are seniors, which can only bode well for the Raiders as they prepare to start the 2015-16 season Saturday night.
But coach Todd Negoshian also is cautiously optimistic, expressing concern about experience because few have played major minutes for the Raiders.
“It’s a different year for us, having 12 seniors and returning the amount of kids we do,” he said. “We’ve never had that in our program. (But) that’s a big hole for us, playing kids without a lot of game experience.”
Two who do have a lot of experience are seniors Jacob Joubert and Alex Darden. Both will be four-year varsity players and will comprise the nucleus of the team.
The 6-foot-2 Joubert has started the previous three years at point guard. He averaged nine points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals last season and was named to the all-area third team.
“Jacob has done a great job for us as a set-up man and now needs to shoulder more of the overall load,” Negoshian said. “This is his team and we will go as JJ goes.
“He has a great knowledge and feel for the game. He has gotten stronger and quicker, and we’re looking for him to have a great senior year.”
A 6-foot-6 post player, Darden has started for two seasons and made the all-area fourth team last March. He averaged seven points and seven rebounds as the Raiders went 20-4 and were Class A regional finalists.
“He needs to keep attacking and scoring for us to be successful,” Negoshian said, adding Darden has improved every year. “He is a great leader by example, very blue collar with his work ethic.”
Depth in backcourt
Despite the experience issue, the Raiders do have other talented players and should be one of the better teams in Oakland County.
North is deep at the guard positions as seniors Sasoun and Mher Tcholakian, Josh Hogans, Billy Thomas, Darryl Dunlap and Jimmy Doig also return. All are 6-footers except for the 5-9 Hogans.
The Tcholakians took turns being the fifth starter last season. Mher won’t be ready to play until early January due to a football injury, however.
Hogans, an excellent three-point shooter, was often the first player off the bench and played well, as did Dunlap when called upon.
Thomas — who could play the point and allow Joubert to be the two — is a highly touted player who sat out most of last season, appearing in four games near the end, after transferring from Detroit Jesuit.
“I think it’s probably one of the deeper teams we’ve had,” Negoshian said of the guard situation. “Billy Thomas has a full year under his belt and knows our system.
“Josh had a wonderful junior year off the bench, and I think he will continue to progress. What the twins bring with how hard they play and their competitive natures is just a great element for us.”
Big guys up front
The Raiders look strong in the front court, too. They also return 6-3 senior De’on Jenkins, a 220-pound defensive end in football who played key minutes last season.
North added 6-7 junior Nate Brooks, a transfer from Georgia, and 6-8 senior Will Buraconak, the other defensive end on the football team who is new to the varsity basketball squad.
“I think we’ve got some depth with our bigs this year,” Negoshian said. “If he continues to play hard and rebound, De’on could have a very good year.
“The key for us is how hard we can play all the time. We have depth at a lot of positions to keep kids fresh and do different things.
“The other thing is our transfer situation. How long is it going to take them to adjust to our system and our style? How quickly those guys catch on will be another key to what we can do.”
Transfers will help
In addition to Brooks, the Raiders have added 6-3 senior wing David Ford from Virginia, 6-2 senior guard Obi Duru from Jesuit and 6-3 junior guard Amauri Hardy from Southfield.
Ford attended North his first two years; his family moved back to Farmington Hills this year.
“Any time you can add kids of their caliber, it’s going to be really good for your program,” Negoshian said, adding Brooks is a mid-major recruit and Duru is a potential college player, too.
“They’re going to give us added depth and the ability to play a variety of lineups.”
A positive outlook
The Raiders, who were 8-2 in the OAA Red Division and runners-up to Clarkston, are expected to be in the race for the 2016 championship, too.
“You have to come ready to play every night in this division,” Negoshian said. “As long as we play hard every game, we’ll let the wins and losses take care of themselves and just try to get better every day.”
The Raiders begin the season at 8:30 p.m. Saturday against Class B state runner-up Detroit Henry Ford in the Oakland Classic at North.
They also will play Detroit Western, the defending Class A state champion, and Chicago Hyde Park in December and Detroit Pershing on Jan. 9.
“Nine of our first 11 games are on the road,” Negoshian said. “We’re going to get battle-tested right away with the quick turnarounds (playing games on back-to-back days in some cases).”