High school Boys basketball preview
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By Al Stilley
Southsider Voice correspondent
Southport with its “Big Three” is primed to make some noise not only on the Southside but throughout the state.
The Cardinals have three of the state’s top players in senior Malik Bennett, junior Joey Brunk and sophomore Paul Scruggs, and the team has plenty of depth.
The trio is coming off a great summer. Scruggs, a 6-3 guard, was on two AAU national championship teams; Bennett, a 5-10 guard, led the Indiana Elite 17 and under team to an AAU national title; and Brunk, a 6-10 center, played for the UnderArmour Grind throughout the Midwest. And the Cardinals took the team camp championship last summer at Michigan State University, winning five games in 48 hours.
“We would like to get the fieldhouse rockin’ again,” third-year coach Kyle Simpson said. “This is a storied program and a storied place that does have plenty of basketball history.”
Elsewhere on the Southside, Franklin Central will be building to a third sectional title; Roncalli pins its hopes on red-hot shooting; Center Grove greets new coach and former Butler standout Zach Hahn; and Class A regional finalist Greenwood Christian Academy rebuilds.
Graduation took its toll on several teams, leaving Center Grove’s Michael Benkert Jr. and sharpshooters Dylan Windler from Perry Meridian and Jimmie King from Roncalli among area players to watch.
Here’s the team-by-team outlook with last year’s records and statistics.
BEECH GROVE (10-10, 3A) – The Hornets face a big challenge this season.
“We lost six seniors that played the majority of the minutes and scored about 95 percent of the points,” seventh-year coach Matt English said. “We do have a lot of players back who have been in the program.”
Beech Grove graduated 53 points per game in Joey Cardenas, the leading scorer with 17 points per game, and No. 2 scorer Caleb Chumley plus Joe Pich, Michael Jennings and Jalen Dyson.
Only 6-0 senior Tommy Pich and 5-11 classmate Jamal Brumfield share any valuable varsity minutes. Pich averaged five points and four rebounds; Brumfield averaged five points. They are joined by seniors Matt Baughman, Garrett Page and Jacob Buckley.
Seniors Marcus Rush, Trevon Badger and Nathan Heavilon are new to the varsity plus more newcomers David Corbin, Roger Swinn, Jordan Boyd and Chase Andries, the Hornets’ standout quarterback.
CENTER GROVE (9-13, 4A) – The largest high school in Johnson County has come up with only two sectional championships in 20 seasons.
Fans hope that eventually changes with former Butler University standout Zach Hahn at the helm for the first year. Hahn succeeds Cliff Hawkins, 10 years, 126-94, now coaching at Madison.
Hahn’s first team will have firepower with 6-4 Michael Benkert Jr., 18.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and 6-1 Carson Lee, 3.4 ppg, in the backcourt. Anderson McCoy, 5-10, is a point guard.
The Trojans have experience and some size in 6-5 Alec Leiter, 6-4 Matt Hawk and Joey Lenkey, 7.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, all seniors. Hahn will also utilize 6-6 Mason Pawlik, 6-5 forward Bryce Brown, 6-4 forward Sterling Rhoades, 5-11 shooting guard Bailey Barrett and 5-10 guard Trevor Howard, all juniors.
Hahn has plenty to mix and match as the Trojans compete in the rugged Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference.
“There have been a lot of positive changes,” Hahn said. “Our season will be decided on whether or not we can follow a game plan and do tough things like limit turnovers, rebound and make the open shot. The biggest determinant will be how we close out games.”
FRANKLIN CENTRAL (13-11, 4A) – The Flashes rebuild after the loss of four starters to graduation and 6-5 junior Antwon Jackson’s move to Warren Central.
“We don’t have very many players returning with varsity minutes; it will take a while until they learn how to play together,” coach John Rocky said. “We play a lot of good teams early in the season, so we’re piling it on in our practices.”
However, Rockey rightfully contends, “I really put sights on how good we’re going to be on February 28 instead of November 15. We preach to the kids every time when we come into the gym, we’re going to try and get better. The last couple of years, we have done that.”
The Flashes return with seniors in 6-7 Landon Alton and 6-4 Matt Anderson, juniors Marcus Burk, a solid shooter, and Jimmy Weinke and 6-4 sophomore Grant Pedigo. Seniors Anthony Cerbone and Julian Nelson add depth in the backcourt.
Anderson and Alton will be called upon to replace Jackson underneath, and Pedigo will be expected to fill the void left by 6-6 Lucas Huffman, Burk is a solid shooter.
“Our kids are going to have to be good learners this year,” Rockey said. “They are going to have to learn how to play to their strengths. Eventually, we will put it together and be competitive.”
GREENWOOD (8-13, 4A) – The Woodmen will be without graduated Jaren Hornbeak, who accounted for 40 percent of the team’s offense.
Veteran mentor Bruce Hensley, the dean of Johnson County coaches with 26 years at the helm, plans to field a more balanced offense. Hornbeak, 21.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg, and was one of six seniors on last year’s team.
The Woodmen return with seniors Alex Rapp (5.7 ppg), 6-4 power forward Sam Isenthall (5.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg), 6-4 Paul Proctor, 6-3 Ethan Smith, 5-8 Isaac Stogsdill and 6-0 Justin Conley (5.4 ppg). Senior Evan James is up from the junior varsity team.
“”We’ll have to make up for what we lost,” Hensley said. “I’m hoping we will be more balanced than last year; we can do that. We have some players who can score.”
The Woodmen also feature juniors Michael Bailey, 6-1 forward Zach Lester, 6-3 center Tyler Simmerman and 6-0 sophomore forward Adam Rapp.
“This is an unselfish team; they put the team ahead of themselves, and they are very, very close,” Hensley said. “This is an intelligent basketball team; it’s going to be a fun team to work with and a fun team to watch.”
The Woodmen hope to snap from a skid of eight consecutive losing seasons with only 44 wins. Greenwood’s last winning season was in 2006 with 17 wins. Hensley has 238 wins and two sectional championships at Greenwood.
GREENWOOD CHRISTIAN ACADEMY (19-6, A) – The Cougars are coming off the school’s best season with 19 wins, Pioneer League and Class A sectional championships and a runner-up finish in the Martinsville Regional.
Coach Jaime Satre and the Cougars are almost starting over following the graduation of six seniors, who accounted for 61 points and 24 rebounds per outing, including leading scorer Lucas Peters, 21.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg. The senior sextet was part of a class that also claimed the school’s first soccer and baseball sectional championships last season.
“We have some big shoes to fill,” said Satre. “We will have a scrappy defensive-minded team with many of them coming up from a JV team that lost only two games. This year’s team will have a different focus and will play the game differently. They feed off their defense; last year’s team won with their shooting and scoring.”
Five seniors are expected to lead the Cougars. Alec Brown, a 6-4 forward, and 6-0 Noah Shingleton each took the floor for more than 20 games. Seniors Braden Murray, 5-10 Mark Gibson and 5-8 Colin Giebler saw limited action.
Juniors Hunter Slater, 5-8 Jordan Tyra, 6-0 Troy Healy and 5-10 Jared Davenport return with 6-4 classmate Krae Sparks, who is rehabbing from a back injury.
“They got a taste of it (winning), and they want more,” Satre said. “We want to continue to build on what we did last year. We have our strongest schedule; we’ve added Whiteland and Greenwood.”
LUTHERAN (10-11, A) – Coach/athletic director Tom Finchum will have to wait a little while longer to put all the Saints together due to the success of the football team.
“We’ll be doing a lot of drills until they come in, but we’re in no hurry,” said Finchum as the football team prepares for a Class A semistate championship game.
The Saints must adapt to being a more balanced team than a guard-orientated group. Lutheran graduated David Failinger, 4.6 ppg; Malcom Donley, 18.1 ppg; Beau Barham, 10.1 ppg; and Antonio Toscano.
The Saints have size underneath with 6-8 Blake Sobieralski and 6-8 Jake Kent, last year’s sixth man; 6-5 senior Cole Ballard, 5.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, can play three positions.
“Last year we had a lot of firepower outside,” Ballard said. “We’ll be stronger inside, so we’ll have more of a mix. We should have more balance and be even stronger all-around.”
Junior Matt Fox, who started late last season, can play in the front court or backcourt. Center Grove transfer Tony Miner moves in at point guard.
“We lost our three guards (graduation), but we have some young players we can move in,” Finchum said. “Hopefully, we’ll be better defensively and improve our rebounding. We’ll have several players who could lead us on any given night.”
MANUAL (10-13, 2A) – Third-year coach Ryan Baumgartner is doing all he can do to rebuild Manual’s program.
The Redskins won only two games in his first season, then improved to 10 wins last season while reaching a 2A sectional championship game against Crispus Attucks. Several players took part in summer tournaments at Tech and Fishers, and Baumgartner also had several middle school players in summer leagues.
The Redskins will field a freshman team for the first time under Baumgartner’s reign.
“The kids are really coming along,” said the coach, who has no starters back from last year’s team. “Some of the younger players were with us in middle school, and that’s a big plus. We’re short on varsity experience, but we have some of the best players since I’ve been here.”
Seniors James Osburn, a 6-2 guard/transfer from Broad Ripple, and 6-3 center Andre Howard are the standouts. Senior Jason Breeden, a third-year player, 5-10 junior point guard Terrance Williams, 5-10 junior power forward Robert Johnson and Romelo Cox will see a lot of playing time.
“I look for us to progress slowly this season, but my expectations are higher than last season,” Baumgartner said. “These kids know what’s going on and want to help us build.”
PERRY MERIDIAN (13-7, 4A) – The Falcons seek their third consecutive winning season, but fifth-year coach Brent Keck must work a puzzle that includes four returnees and several newcomers.
Perry Meridian needs to replace 38 ppg lost with the graduation of leading scorer Curtis Green (Marian), Anthony Hardy, Colin Timmons and Dalton Demeter.
The Falcons return with Dylan Windler, a Belmont University signee, 14 ppg, seven rpg, plus seniors Shawtain North and 6-2 Devin Parrish and junior Dusty Baird. Keck contends that Windler is an Indiana All-Star candidate.
“Windler is a great player, and he’s also becoming a team leader,” Keck said. “He’s really changed his identity as a player, and he’s just scratched the surface.”
Several newcomers provide promise for the Falcons: seniors Jared Barker and Ben Fleet, junior Jackson Gambrell, sophomores Brandon Perry, TJ Comer and David Jackson and freshman Gabe Paterson.
“We aren’t a one-man show; we have a lot of kids who can knock down shots,” Keck said. “We have to find some balance and get some experience. They have worked hard (over the summer). I don’t know what that means in terms of wins and losses, but they are fun to work with and a joy to coach. Our younger players are eager to prove they can be a big part of this team. We have a lot of new faces, but we’re going to be competitive.”
RONCALLI –11-10, 3A) – Smaller but quicker, the Rebels return with a lot of firepower on the perimeter.
Leading scorer Jimmy King, 6-4, 17.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, headlines the offense with 6-3 backcourt mate Max Clifford, who connected on 40 3-point shots last year.
Coach Michael Wantz will also looking for scoring from 5-10 guard Myles Sturdivant, returnee Tyler Schoettle and senior Danny Annee.
Younger players include 6-3 junior Justin Saylor and sophomores in 6-9 Basil Sonderman and 5-10 guard Christian Stewart.
“Defenses will key on Jimmy, so we will have to have a second ball handler,” Wantz said. “Jimmy’s seen a lot of different defenses, and he still gets his shots. Max is able to stretch the defense, and Myles continues to be our spark plug.
“We have to have a team that can defend and rebound, especially against the bigger teams we play. Our size isn’t great, but we have a team with a high basketball IQ. We have to be able to move the ball around and keep the defense moving.”
SOUTHPORT (15-8, 4A) – Expectations are high that the Cardinals will raise the echoes inside historic Southport Fieldhouse.
Bennett, Brunk and Scruggs could rank among the Cardinals’ greatest players. They were the leaders of last year’s squad, which won 15-of-19 games after dropping four of their first five outings. They combined for 44.1 points and 21 rebounds per game last season for the Cards, who fell to Pike in overtime in a 4A sectional championship game.
“They have stayed hungry,” Simpson said. “And we have continued to build that bond as a team.”
The Cardinals have plenty of combinations to go with the Big Three in 6-4 senior DeMari Davis, 6-3 junior Eli Walton, 6-0 junior guard Janson Benge and 6-4 junior Luke Johnston, the Cardinals’ all-time touchdown passing leader.
The offseason development of 6-9 Sudanese sophomore Dut Mabok, who has been at Southport for a year, has been impressive.
“We’ve played them together,” Simpson said. “Having 6-10 and 6-9 out there at the same time – that’s not a bad problem to have.”
The Cardinals also have senior Josh Springer, sophomore Jamie Burnett and football player Kyle Williams.
“If they keep working hard and keep believing, the sky’s the limit,” said Simpson in anticipation of a resurgence at Southport Fieldhouse.