I’ll save the hyperbole and write this first: there have been close races for IndyStar Indiana Mr. Basketball before.
There was Glenn Robinson over Alan Henderson in 1991. Nine years later, Jared Jeffries was the pick over Zach Randolph. In 2005, Luke Zeller rode a last-second shot in the state championship to edge Dominic James and Josh McRoberts. Just two years ago, Gary Harris edged out Yogi Ferrell for the award given annually to the top high school senior basketball player in the state.
And now I’ll write this: the 2014 Mr. Basketball race could rival any of those.
We’re barely into January, but three players appear to have separated themselves from the pack: Marion guard James Blackmon Jr.; Park Tudor forward Trevon Bluiett; and Tech forward Trey Lyles. Not to discredit anybody else, but these three are leaving a trail of scorched earth in their wake like I’ve rarely seen.
We’re not even to the midway point of the season, so there are a few chapters still to be written. But let’s take stock of the race as it stands now:
JAMES BLACKMON JR.
In a nutshell: The 6-3 Marion guard transferred from Fort Wayne Bishop Luers this season when his father, former Marion star James Blackmon Sr., took the coaching job there. In his first game, Blackmon Jr. put up 54 points to break his dad’s single-game scoring record. In Marion’s 6-3 start, he’s averaging 35.6 points.
Working in his favor: Blackmon Jr. committed to Indiana as a high school freshman, backed off last summer, and then committed again to IU in November. Mr. Basketball is voted on by a hundreds of media members and high school coaches, some of whom may favor Blackmon Jr. based on his college choice. The last Indiana commit to win Mr. Basketball was Cody Zeller in 2011.
Working against him: After playing in the first eight games, Blackmon Jr. sat out of Friday’s 74-58 win over Oak Hill with a bruised knee. Though it’s not expected to keep him out long-term, any lost time is a missed opportunity considering the competition.
Interesting tidbit: Blackmon Sr. was the Mr. Basketball runner-up to New Castle’s Steve Alford in 1983. Blackmon Sr. scored 1,897 career points.
Interesting tidbit II: Marion has produced four Mr. Basketball winners, tied with Anderson and Washington for the highest total. Pat Klein won it in 1950, Dave Colescott in 1976, and Jay Edwards and Lyndon Jones shared it in 1987.
In a nutshell: The 6-5 Park Tudor forward is averaging a robust 44.2 points and 13.2 rebounds through six games and put on a show with a 51-point, 13-rebound effort in a 95-88 overtime loss to Class 4A second-ranked Tech on Saturday night. The Xavier recruit won two Class 2A state championships alongside Yogi Ferrell as a freshman and sophomore and led Park Tudor to a Marion County Tournament championship last year.
Working in his favor: Bluiett can erase any doubts about schedule strength by leading Park Tudor to another Marion County title next week. Bluiett couldn’t have been more impressive in the loss to Tech, a very deep and strong defensive team. Though they didn’t show it on Saturday, Bluiett’s teammates are very good outside shooters, which will keep opposing defenses honest.
Working against him: Mr. Basketball winners have rarely come from small private schools. Deshaun Thomas of Fort Wayne Luers won it in 2010, but finished his career ranked No. 4 all-time in scoring. Although Park Tudor plays a representative schedule, Bluiett could be downgraded by some voters for playing in 2A.
Interesting tidbit: Bluiett’s former high school teammate, Ferrell, was runner-up to Harris in 2012 in the closest vote in seven years.
Interesting tidbit II: Bluiett is shooting 65.3 percent from the field (98-for-150).
In a nutshell: The 6-10 Tech forward is averaging 24.6 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists for a Tech team that is 11-1 and ranked No. 2 in the state behind two-time defending state champion Carmel. Lyles is the two-time City Player of the Year.
Working in his favor: Lyles’ team has won head-to-head matchups against Bluiett and Blackmon Jr. He had 45 points and 17 rebounds against Park Tudor and 29 points and 12 rebounds in an 83-67 win over Marion (Blackmon Jr. also had 29 points). Lyles has a more experienced supporting cast and has produced against a tougher schedule. He’s also been more dominating in the post as a senior than he’s ever been.
Working against him: The one-time Indiana commit is now headed to Kentucky. The last Kentucky recruit to win Mr. Basketball was Valparaiso’s Roger Harden in 1982. Lyles’ numbers could probably be even more impressive if not for such a tough schedule and a strong team around him.
Interesting tidbit: Lyles now holds the school record for career scoring, single-game scoring and career rebounding. He’s aiming to join Joe Sexson (1952) as Tech’s second Mr. Basketball winner.
Interesting tidbit II: The last Mr. Basketball from an Indianapolis Public School program was Washington’s George McGinnis in 1969.
Those are three great players with excellent credentials. Though my vote remains undecided, I tended to think Blackmon Jr. was the slightest of slight favorites among voters until a couple weeks ago. Now I’m not so sure.
However it turns out, enjoy the next couple months. It’ll be a race for the ages.
Kyle Neddenriep also writes for the Indianapolis Star.