Devils' seniors lead the way

Devils' seniors lead the way

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Devils' seniors lead the way

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Each of Richmond’s six seniors took a different path to reach the Red Devils’ boys basketball team.

Each has played a large role in its success this season.

Kendal Baker, Zach Lett, Abdul Shabazz, Devin Thomas, Nick Thomas and Mike Tillman have been key contributors in helping the Red Devils to a 19-2 regular-season record and the program’s first outright North Central Conference championship in 26 years.

They all aim for more, too, starting with the upcoming Class 4A Sectional 9 tournament at New Castle.

“We’re really looking forward to it, trying to break this trend we’ve had for over 15 years,” said Tillman, the Red Devils’ leading scorer.

Richmond owns 62 sectional titles, fifth most in the state. The last came in 1996.

This Red Devil group already has made history.

Richmond went 6-0 in the NCC to claim the program’s first championship since 2002 and its first outright title since 1988. The Red Devils are ranked seventh in Class 4A and 10th in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll.

“Our chemistry this year is really good,” Nick Thomas said. “Everybody shares the ball. There is no individual on the team.”

One of Richmond’s greatest strengths has been its depth. The Red Devils routinely rotate 10 players in and out of the lineup, all juniors and seniors.

In their last road win, a 47-34 victory at Mt. Vernon (Fortville), the Red Devils brought in a fresh five early in the first quarter.

Shabazz, Tillman and Lett have teamed with junior guards Davious Webster and Joel Okafor to form the most common starting five this year. Juniors Isaiah Rader and Auntonio Brown combine with Baker, Devin Thomas and Nick Thomas to keep the Red Devils rolling throughout each game.

“We’ve got all the pieces to the puzzle,” Baker said. “We just have to put them all together.”

That’s happened more often than not this season.

Tillman averages a team-high 16.4 points per game, followed by 9.3 and 8.8 for Webster and Okafor, respectively.

Shabazz has provided a steady presence on the floor with 6.1 points and around 3.5 rebounds, while Baker joins Tillman as a 3-point sharpshooter. Tillman has 88 treys in 21 games, Baker 41.

Lett and Devin Thomas give Richmond options inside, with Lett standing 6-foot-9 and Thomas 6-8. Nick Thomas has jump-started the Red Devils both offensively and defensively off the bench, as have Rader and Brown.

“We’re hoping that leadership will get us really far this year,” Lett said.

Richmond coach Joe Luce praised the seniors for their unselfish nature.

“They don’t care about anything but winning. They’ve really checked their egos at the door every day in practice and every game,” Luce said. “Each one is capable of being a star on another team, and they have shared that glory with each other.

“They have filled their roles, and ultimately, they are going to walk out of here as one of the best classes in Richmond basketball at this point, one of only three teams to win the NCC outright.”

That championship meant a lot to the senior class. Richmond’s first outright NCC title — and first, period — came in 1943. More than 40 years passed before the second outright crown.

The Red Devils celebrated No. 3 by trimming the Tiernan Center nets Feb. 21 following their 81-73 victory over Kokomo.

“It’s been a real good season. First and foremost, everybody knows the NCC, that’s a big thing this year,” Shabazz said.

Added Tillman: “It means a lot, really. … Just to change that now, and get the NCC. Now it’s time to get the sectional, and that’s what we’re focused on. It would mean the world, especially just because it hasn’t happened for so long. I know our town will rally behind us.”

Shabazz, Tillman, Baker and Nick Thomas have been playing together since freshman year. Devin Thomas moved to Richmond as a sophomore and did not participate in basketball that year, while Lett transferred to RHS for his senior season.

“I think it’s very interesting to look at how each one of them has arrived,” Luce said.

“It’s a great class that has gotten itself better each and every day and continues to improve.”

For Lett, offseason work helped in that improvement — and helped him acclimate to a new team.

“I was able to get acquainted with my teammates,” he said. “It was really valuable. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I just hope it can continue.”

Richmond’s season continues with the trip to New Castle.

Richmond opens tournament play 7 p.m. Tuesday at New Castle Fieldhouse against Mt. Vernon. The winner advances to meet Greenfield-Central at 6 p.m. Friday in a semifinal.

“It’s been very special,” Devin Thomas said of the Red Devils’ season. “We’ve come a long way, and we plan to keep going.”

Shabazz, who has been on the varsity since his sophomore year, is looking forward to the chance at another tournament.

“I love this team,” he said. “It’s the best team I’ve played on, ever.”

Luce called his seniors “winners” after the Red Devils closed the regular season Friday night with a dominant 86-46 victory over visiting Indianapolis Manual. That victory gave RHS its best regular-season record since the 20-2 mark the Red Devils posted in 1987-88.

“They have put in that work and that time to have those results,” Luce said. “I’ve continued to believe in and trust every one of them. … The results are there, and I’m hoping for more as we get into March, some quality wins and a run here in the tournament that will be meaningful to them also.”

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