MOUNT CARMEL -- As Mount Carmel head basketball coach Tyler Buss said best, this coming year of Aces basketball may be the most unknown a group has been in years for the Aces.
Having seen the departure of vital seniors such as Austin Rager, Bret Doan and Luke Gould, the Aces will be reliant on a crop of underclassmen to step up and fill in the void left by the graduating seniors.
This past week served as a precursor for what may be to come, as Mount Carmel hosted a pair of summer shootouts this week at Wabash Valley College and at Mount Carmel Grade School.
In Saturday's four games, Buss surely had to have liked some of what he saw. Mount Carmel won all four games, scoring victories over Gallatin County, Eldorado, Carmi and Lawrenceville in the tiring day of action.
Though players will likely considerably progress in the coming five months as the basketball season officially nears, some players appeared to have already grown in the four month break since Mount Carmel's season ended in the IHSA Sectionals.
The 6-foot-6 Aces big will be called upon much more frequently with Rager and Doan both gone now and showed what he's capable of in an expanded role on Saturday.
Applebey flashed potential to attack off the dribble and create his own shot. On a couple sequences Applebey even pushed the ball in a transition opportunity for the Aces and showed capable ball handling for a big.
Just as he did last year, the soon to be junior showed his ability to stretch out the defense, nailing a couple perimeter shots. He was aggressive on the glass and finished well around the bucket, capitalizing on offensive boards and displaying some smooth post moves.
"He is [going to have a larger offensive role]," Buss spoke of Applebey. "He can score a lot of different ways, he's kind of taken that -- I'd say between your sophomore and junior year there's a really big jump and he's definitely experienced that -- he's confident around the basket, he can take people off the dribble, he's knocking down outside shots, he's going to be the man we think he can be."
A 5-foot-7 guard, the incoming senior was charged with the task of floor general duties in Beau Stipp's absence. Gill mostly served a reserve role and didn't handle the ball particularly that much or create his shot. He was mostly confined to being a spot up 3-point threat on the perimeter on kick-outs by Rager or Applebey.
For much of the time, Gill was impressive as the Aces primary ball handler. He was careful handling the rock, slashed through the opposing defense, looked to find teammates for buckets and took on more of a scoring role.
One sequence in particular that stood out was on back to back possessions in the Lawrenceville game. Gill found Noah Martin on the low block with a nice feed for the score and subsequently swiped the ball from the Indians defensively, pushed the ball in transition and found Applebey for a lob.
Even if he returns to a sixth man role after Stipp returns, the experience he's gaining in Stipp's stead will be invaluable to Gill's development in his senior season.
"It's a great experience for Aden," Buss said. "You need two point guards, he's done a really good job facilitating. He's becoming more of a scorer, if people go under ball screens he's able to knock down that shot this year. He's doing a good job of getting to the basket and using some of the floater type moves around the bucket. I've been really, really happy with Aden thus far."
Perhaps nobody had a stronger showing on Wednesday than the 6-foot-2 Aces incoming sophomore big.
Laws, though a little undersized for the power forward role he typically serves, makes up for it with his physicality. Laws was extremely aggressive in the low block, finishing through contact and grabbing boards. As with many of the other Aces, Laws was more assertive offensively and is likely to see an uptick in production during his sophomore campaign.
The skill which likely had Buss enthusiastic about Laws' day more than any -- his low-post passing ability. Laws displayed incredible basketball IQ when possessing the ball in the low block. When a double-team arrived, he was extremely unselfish, flashing the ability to kick it back out to the perimeter or find an open man on the opposite block.
"You talk about a jump, I think you've really seen that out of Luke Laws . . . .," Buss spoke of Laws. "From being thrown into the fire last year as a freshman, the confidence they're playing with right now, how strong Luke Laws has gotten down low has really helped him finish around the basket."
Noah Martin is another Ace who's likely to be given the nod as a starter. The 6-foot-1 guard/forward primarily thrives as a shooter, but showed his ability as a scorer and attacking the bucket as well. Buss spoke highly of Martin along with Laws, citing Martin as one who's set to take a significant leap.
Kyle Kline filled into a starting spot in the four-game stretch as well. The 6-foot-2 lefty guard/forward, similarly to Martin, thrives as a scorer. Kline boasts a smooth left-handed 3-point shot and Buss praised Kline for his defensive prowess. If Kline continues to produce, he'll likely start next season.
"You mentioned Aden before, but we're getting contributions from up and down the lineup," Buss said. "Satchel Patberg's a kid that's maybe off the radar, but in terms of what he can bring the floor athletically, running the floor, playing up around the rim, I think we've been happy with him. Kyle Kline's done a good job of coming in and being that gritty, tough defender that we need him to be. There's been a lot of pleasant surprises so far."
Beau Stipp was notably absent as aforementioned, though Aces fans shouldn't worry about the junior's injury. Stipp's injury is expected to be short, likely lasting just another week or two before he's cleared to return. Buss even remarked that if it were playoff time, Stipp would likely play through it.
Though many new, and possibly unfamiliar faces will be carrying on the tradition of Mount Carmel basketball, Buss seemed delighted with their developments thus far and Aces fans should be as well.
Fortunately, many of these players experienced many highs and lows already last season. From starting off 0-6, to rebounding and winning a Regional Championship, they've experienced a variety of outcomes already in their high school careers, even if many of them are underclassmen.
If they continue on the trajectory they're on, the transition into life after Rager and Doan -- a pair of 1,000 point scorers in Mount Carmel history -- should be a smooth one.
"I've been very, very pleased," Buss said. "We're definitely ahead of where I thought we'd be this time of the year. We told them we wanted to get better from Wednesday and today was a very good day that was definitely better than last Wednesday."