WEST LAFAYETTE - Last year, the IU Health Hoops Classic was the high point of West Lafayette’s season.
The Red Devils pulled off a pair of upsets to reach the championship game.
But West Side would win just three more times the rest of the season.
On Tuesday night, the Red Devils again won in the opening round of the IU Health Hoops Classic and one thing was evident: this team is not last year's team.
"After the season we had some individual meetings. We talked about what we wanted to see from each individual," second-year head coach Jacob VanArsdel said. "We identified a lot of areas that we needed to improve in. We went to work and tried to get better.
"We have improved, but I think we still have a long, long way to go. The good thing is the season is just starting."
It started for West Lafayette with an impressive 59-52 victory over Central Catholic at Harrison's May Gymnasium.
Last season, West Side scored 59 or more points just five times. One of those was double overtime.
But this team, it can score.
Sophomore guard Benny Speaker showed it with eight points in the second quarter against CC, sparking a 14-3 run to end the first half.
"The difference between this year and last year is we put in a lot more work and had a lot more discipline," said Speaker, who finished with 14 points. "The stuff our coach put in, we have been executing a lot better in practices.
"I am a team player. I don’t care. If I am not on, I will pass it. I don’t have to score to play well. We can still win a lot of games."
Because Speaker knows a lot of players can score a lot of points.
On Tuesday, it was he and Donovan Loudermill, who had 10 points. Jackson Fry had 10 rebounds and it all helped offset Albert Schwartz's double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds, along with a combined 32 points from Tanner Fields and Bryce McCammon for the Knights (1-1).
"We are deep. We have guys that can score," said VanArsdel, who was 5-19 in his first season. "We have guys that, when you think about it, have had six practices (from West Lafayette's semistate football team). They are still trying to get their basketball legs in. Everybody is going to improve and continue to get better."
And, of course, there's the most important component to why West Lafayette is nothing like the team that struggled through last season.
A healthy Divine Adeyanju.
The 6-foot-6 senior suffered a torn meniscus last season, derailing a statistically strong campaign for Adeyanju and removing the Red Devils of their best player.
"For me, it was frustrating because I knew I could have a good season with my teammates," Adeyanju said. "It was really a letdown because there were so many people counting on me to put up points and get rebounds. It was hard for me going through that."
Well, Adeyanju is healthy and against Central Catholic, he proved that, coming up one block shy of a triple-double.
Adeyanju scored 17 points to go with 10 rebounds and nine blocks.
"He’s such a great player for us. He affects the game on both ends of the floor," VanArsdel said. "Not only does he affect the offensive end because he draws a lot of attention, but he also affects the defensive end with just his presence in there."
Adeyanju helped West Side score 15 points in the opening quarter, but CC scored 17.
In the second, CC struggled to hit shots, but the Red Devils did not and built a double-digit lead.
"We put in a lot of work over the summer trying to get our offense ready for what’s coming," Adeyanju said. "We still need more work. That is for sure, but we are getting where we are supposed to be."
That was the constant word: work.
VanArsdel said it. Speaker said it. Adeyanju said it. All during postgame interviews.
It's not by accident that the Red Devils were the most impressive team of the four at Harrison Tuesday night (Lafayette Jeff vs. Harrison followed the CC-West Lafayette game).
"Last year we started off well and thought we were going to keep being hot and we kind of just slowed down," Speaker said. "We didn’t put in the work like we did before the season started. We have to keep putting in the work and the more we win, the more momentum we will have."
Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: West Lafayette basketball puts in work, impresses in season opener