From now until the beginning of the high school basketball season, I’ll count down the area high school boys basketball Fab 15. Here’s a look at No. 9, No. 10, No. 11, No. 12, No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15 on the list. We continue today with No. 8:
No. 8 – CATHEDRAL
The biggest news around the Cathedral program in the offseason was the transfer of former standout North Central guard Eron Gordon to the school.
But Gordon, a 6-2 guard is currently ineligible (he’ll have has appeal heard by the state’s Department of Education case review panel on Nov. 19) after the Indiana High School Athletic Association ruled he’d transferred for athletic reasons.
Either way, the season will go on. And there are plenty of reasons for optimism around a Cathedral program coming off a 16-7 season and first-round sectional loss.
“The first thing is that we’re very deep,” Cathedral coach Andy Fagan said. “We have a lot of skilled players. Practices are going to be significantly more competitive than last year when we really only played seven guys. I think we’ll get to where we were our first three years when we had guys competing for spots. That puts a little more urgency in everybody’s approach.”
Cathedral is replacing its top three scorers in Justin Baker (15.8 ppg), Collin Barthel (9.2 ppg, 7.2 rebounds) and Matt Gregory (9.7 ppg), all gone to graduation. That may be a cause for concern for most teams. But even without Gordon, who averaged 14.7 points last year at North Central, Fagan believes there is enough firepower to make up for those defections.
The top returning scorer for the Irish is Tra Landers, a 6-2 guard who averaged 6.6 points and 2.6 rebounds as a freshman. Landers shot 38 percent from the field and wasn’t a factor from the 3-point line, but displayed plenty of promise.
“To be perfectly honest we’re expecting big things,” Fagan said of Landers. “He was a guy that last year as a freshman from game one through the sectional game, he was never scared of the moment.”
The lone senior on the roster is 6-4 Jared Thomas, a veteran who is a standout offensive lineman on the football team and will play in college at Northwestern. Thomas, who averaged 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds last season, brings a world of experience to the Irish roster. If it seems like he’s been around forever, well, you’re not alone.
“He’s like ‘Grandpa Thomas,'” Fagan said. “It seems like he’s been here forever. Jared is a tremendous leader and an intelligent kid who knows exactly what needs to be done in all situations. He knows when to put an arm around a teammate or hold guys accountable when the situation requires it. He’s just kind of a steady presence for everybody else. Good things happen when Jared touches the ball. He knows what he’s supposed to do and where it needs to go.”
Other players with significant varsity experience are 5-11 junior guard Tiernan Cook and 6-2 junior guard Matt Paligraf. Cook came on as a freshman and played a role for the Irish on its Class 4A state finalist team and averaged 3.9 points and 2.3 rebounds as a sophomore.
Fagan said Cook’s contributions aren’t limited to statistics.
“He runs the a team about as well as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Fagan said. “He keeps everybody organized on both ends of the floor. He’s the best on-ball defender I’ve had.”
Paligraf (5.1 ppg, 1.4 rebounds) was mostly a 3-point shooter last year, but is a good athlete who should be a more well-rounded threat as a junior.
“There shouldn’t be any surprises for those guys,” Fagan said of the juniors. “They’ve played in front of a sold-out crowd in the City Tournament at Tech and played in some big games.”
Cathedral also adds a major piece in North Central transfer Jordan Walker, a 6-1 junior guard. Walker averaged 7.6 points in a major role for North Central as a sophomore.
“He’s an exceptionally coachable and talented kid,” Fagan said. “He’ll provide leadership.”
Other players expected to see time are 6-3 junior forward Mike Kluger, 6-3 sophomore forward Austin Kendrick and 6-1 sophomore guard Mason Hardimon. A pair of freshmen – 6-4 forward Emil Ekiyor and 6-3 forward Jarron Coleman – could also factor into the equation.
Fagan said Hardimon’s development reminds him of former Cathedral guard Garrett Hall, a major piece to Cathedral’s 2013 state finalist.
“He’s spent a lot of time working on his game,” Fagan said. “It’s going to be hard for us not to find minutes for him.”
A reversal of the eligibility ruling on Gordon would be a major storyline to Cathedral’s season. Fagan anticipates it would be a smooth and – obviously – welcome transition.
“Our guys are about winning games and Eron would help us win games at a pretty high rate,” he said. “If that goes through, I’m sure our team will do their best to get him caught up as quickly as possible.”
Why Cathedral could be ranked higher: If Gordon is able to play, this preview changes significantly. There’s a reason he’s ranked as top-50 player nationally in the 2016 class. His presence would give the Irish a proven scorer to go with several strong role players.
Why Cathedral could be ranked lower: It’s a little concerning when the top returning scorer averaged less than 7 points a game. How will the pieces fit together? With only one senior on the roster, will there be a sense of urgency? A lot of question marks for a team ranked this high on the list. There are those
Circle the date: Dec. 5, at Howe. It’s the season opener for Cathedral, so it’ll be far from a finished product. But a test against an experienced and motivated team like Howe will be difficult. A game the following week against Tech will also offer a barometer.