ROSSVILLE — Basketball tradition seems to ooze from the walls at Rossville, the kind of place where old-timers stop by school to chat with the coach.
Many of the present-day Hornets saw it with their own eyes, cheering from the Conseco Fieldhouse stands as grade-schoolers when Rossville beat Barr-Reeve for the 2002 Class A state championship.
“It’s definitely something you dream of and want to accomplish,” sophomore guard Austin Miller said. “You work hard in the offseason and get everybody together and build chemistry.”
In pursuit of its fist winning record since 2008-09, Rossville (6-4) faces one of its biggest weekends of the season. Hoosier Heartland Conference contender Tri-Central visits tonight, and on Saturday, Rossville travels to Case Arena to face county rival Frankfort.
With five returning starters back, the Hornets feel they’re building to something special this season.
“We’re really looking forward to this,” senior point guard James Baker said. “We really want to come out and play as hard as we can. We want to come out and show what we can actually do. We haven’t played to our highest potential yet, and I think we can this weekend.”
Rossville coach Dave Mosson is more than familiar with the school’s basketball tradition. He helped build it, first as a player on the team’s 1969 regional champion and then as an assistant coach.
Mosson recalls men like Indiana Basketball Hall of Famers Gene Milner and Phil Buck when discussing what Hornets basketball means to the school and the community.
“We’ve been doing this here for over 100 years,” Mosson said. “I’ve preached tradition and what it means to wear a Rossville uniform and how important it is to the community. We don’t have to win all the games, but they want somebody to represent them with sportsmanship and hard work and see people running up and down the floor on fast breaks.”
That up-tempo approach precedes Mosson’s own playing days, though one of the current team’s main weapons — the 3-point shot — does not.
Over the past two seasons, Brandon Tonsoni and Miller have both attempted more 3-pointers than 2-point field goals. After hitting 39.7 percent of his shots from behind the arc last season, Tonsoni is currently draining them at 49.2 percent while attempting more than six per game.
“It can change the whole momentum of a game,” said Baker, whose 5.8 assists rank second in the area. “He can deliver the ball from any spot on the court. You have to guard him when he comes out of the locker room.”
Mosson joked that the idea of facing a box-and-one or triangle-and-two “used to give me nightmares.” Central Catholic effectively took Tonsoni out of the game while ending Rossville’s season in last year’s sectional semifinals.
Now Mosson sees the Hornets developing enough balance and versatility to handle those gimmick defenses. Miller averages 11.4 points while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. E.T. Brenneman scores 9.7 per game and is among the team leaders in both rebounds and assists. Baker and Gregorash both average around eight points per night.
“I’ve learned to not let it get in my head and let the game come to me and I’ll get my shots that way,” said Tonsoni, whose father, Brian, has coached at Northfield and Delphi. “And if the shots don’t come to me, my teammates can score the ball too, and I’m perfectly fine with that.”
Long before he knew he would play at Rossville, Tonsoni attended that 2002 state championship game with his family. He and the rest of the Hornets feel they have the potential to add their own success to the program’s proud history.
“We set the bar pretty high this year,” Miller said. “We were close to .500 last year, and we didn’t finish out the year as well as we wanted to. We want to get back to a winning record.”