NEW CASTLE — This had never happened before, not in the history of Indiana high school basketball, and the depth of that history was on display Tuesday at The Fieldhouse. Under green banners celebrating the basketball tradition of New Castle High, with sectional titles dating to “14” — that’s 1914 — a pair of 2,000-point scorers squared off for the first time in state history as Lebanon and Kristen Spolyar played Princeton and Jackie Young in the 32nd annual Hall of Fame Classic.
The game was a blowout, an 87-63 victory for Princeton, but the individual scoring battle was closer.
And the individual scoring battle was legendary. No, really. Jackie Young and Kristen Spolyar entered the game ranked first and second in the state in scoring. Nationally? They came in fourth and fifth, Young at 38.7 ppg, Spolyar at 37.8. Young is headed to Notre Dame, Spolyar to Butler. This state has seen a little bit of everything, from Milan to Oscar Robertson to Rick Mount to Steve Alford to Larry Bird to Stephanie White to Skylar Diggins.
But this state had never seen this. Had never seen a pair of 2,000-point scorers — not 2,000 points eventually, but currently — go head-to-head. Social media was buzzing so loudly before the game, Young’s mother was telling me she heard it.
“And I’m not on there very much,” Linda Young was saying at halftime. “But it’s everywhere.”
When it ended, I was waiting outside the Princeton locker room for Jackie Young. Her team had won the overall battle. She knew that. The individual scoring contest with Spolyar?
Young had no idea. There were printouts of the box score in the locker room, but Young never looked. She had no idea.
“Do you want to know?” I asked.
“Only if you want to tell me,” she said.
I didn’t tell her. She didn’t ask. We talked about what matters to her more.
* * *
“All she wants to do is win,” Young’s coach, Charles Mair, was saying a few minutes later.
How she does it drives him nuts, at times. She’s the best player he’s ever had, possibly the best player any girls basketball coach in this state has ever had, but she doesn’t take over games until she wants to. She didn’t want to take this one over when it began, setting up teammates for buckets instead, but her teammates went cold, and Lebanon was drawing closer —15-11 — after a basket by Spolyar.
And Charles Mair, he saw it coming.
“You’ve heard of players having different gears,” he tells me. “Right?”
“Most have a first gear and a second gear,” he says, and he holds his left hand at waist level, then moves it to his chest. Then the Princeton coach puts his hand near his eyes, stares at me to make sure I’m following, and continues.
“Jackie has a third gear,” he says. Now the hand goes above his head. “And a fourth. I call it ‘Jackie Time.’ You can see it happening, and she can’t be stopped.”
With Princeton leading 15-11, Young hit the gas pedal. She blocked a 3-pointer at one end, exploded down the court, was rewarded with a pass in traffic and burst through the lane for a layup, a foul and a free throw. Then she caught a pass 15 feet from the basket and buried the jumper. Next time down the court, she’s leading a three-on-one fast break. No-look pass to Brooke James for a layup. And then with two seconds left in the quarter, Young attacks the rim for a left-handed finish.
Princeton leads 24-13 after one quarter. The rout is on. And now something terrifying is about to happen.
* * *
More than 2,000 spectators are so quiet, I can hear Jackie Young softly crying.
She’s lying on the court, hands over her head, coaches and school officials tending to her after her knee buckled on a fast break. A trainer gently rolls the sleeve down her knee and studies it. Young disappears through the tunnel to the locker room, arms draped over team officials, as her mom watches from the 10th row.
A few minutes later Princeton athletics director Jason Engelbrecht emerges from the tunnel and shouts toward the Princeton cheering section: “Linda!”
Young’s mom rises and heads toward the court. Engelbrecht meets her near the first row. He is smiling.
“Nothing structural,” he tells her. “She’ll be fine.”
Or better. With three minutes left in the half, Jackie Young re-enters the game.
She hits a pull-up 16-footer. Rebounds her own miss and scores. Hits two free throws. Then two more. Princeton ends the half on a 12-0 run — Young scores eight points in three minutes — and now it’s 50-19.
How is the scoring duel between Young and Spolyar? Well, it’s like this. It’s halftime, and despite missing five minutes because of the knee issue, Jackie Young is personally outscoring Lebanon 21-19.
* * *
Her picture will hang soon in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame — the director showed her exactly where on Monday — but Jackie Young is unimpressed. That’s how her mom raised her, Linda always telling Jackie that there’s somebody, somewhere, better than you. Never forget that, Linda would tell her.
But man, it was hard to find proof. Jackie was dominating kids from the first time she picked up a basketball, a combination of genes — former Michigan State star Travis Trice is her cousin – work ethic and hunger. In middle school it was time for AAU ball.
“Now it’ll happen,” Linda Young was thinking, assuming someone in the country was better than her daughter.
Hasn’t happened yet. But the lessons from her mom stuck.
There’s somebody, somewhere, better than you, Jackie.
Her AAU coach on the Indy Gym Rats, Danny Riego, has had to de-program Young, telling her during timeouts at national tournaments, “You’re the best player on the floor. Take this game over.”
And Young takes over, as she did Tuesday at New Castle. She finished with 34 points — Spolyar closed strong to finish with 29 — and that gives Young 2,904 points for her career. She is second all-time among girls in state history, trailing Wawasee’s Shanna Zolman (3,085). It’s a matter of time before Young passes Zolman, as she has passed Diggins (fourth at 2,790) and White (third, 2,869). Spolyar is 10th (2,409).
After Jackie Young becomes No. 1 in Indiana girls history, her picture will replace that of Zolman — and go alongside boys scoring champ Damon Bailey (3,134 points) of Bedford North Lawrence — in a corner of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
“We call it ‘the record wall,’” Hall executive director Chris May was telling me after the game Tuesday.
May showed the Princeton girls team the record wall on Monday, including the engraved list of the single-season scoring leaders, topped by this name at No. 1: Jackie Young (1,003 points last season).
“She didn’t seem real impressed with herself,” says May.
I tell that to Mair. He nods.
“She’s the most humble player — I’ll say it — she’s the most humble big-time player I’ve ever seen,” he says.
I’m remembering a play in the second quarter, when Jackie Young grabbed a long defensive rebound and took off the other way. She’s 6-feet tall, bigger than most players on the court, and faster than all of them. She was 30 feet from the basket when she saw her teammate and sister, sophomore Kiara Young, running alongside her.
Jackie Young, engaged in a battle with the No. 2 scorer in the state, gave the ball to Kiara for a layup.
HALL OF FAME CLASSIC SEMIFINALS
Princeton 87, Lebanon 63
Princeton 24 26 19 18 – 87
Lebanon 13 6 25 19 – 63
Lebanon (11-4) – Kristen Spolyar 9 11-16 29, Kassidi Cadle 4 1-1 10, Peyton Terrill 2 0-0 4, Brooke Montgomery 5 0-0 11, Madi Heffron 3 0-0 8, Tori Harker 0 1-2 1.
Princeton (16-0) – Jackie Young 13 8-9 34, Hannah Brewer 8 2-7 18, Brooke James 8 2-2 18, Kiana Hardiman 1 0-0 2, Kiara Young 2 5-6 9, Easton Chandler 1 0-0 2, Samantha Hyneman 2 0-0 4.
3-Point Goals – Princeton 0, Lebanon 4 (Heffron 2, Montgomery, Cadle).
Noblesville 72, Benton Central 40
Noblesville 18 20 20 14 – 72
Benton Central 8 8 19 5 – 40
Benton Central (13-1) – Katie Shields 4 0-0 8, Betsy Marquie 1 1-2 3, Kaylan Coffman 6 2-3 14, Bayley Goodman 4 3-4 14, Madison Tolen 0 1-2 1, Taylor Tucker 0 0-2 0. Totals 15 7-13 40.
Noblesville (16-3) – Brooke Herron 3 1-2 8, Emily Kiser 6 2-2 14, Katelyn O’Reilly 3 0-0 6, Rachel Shipman 3 2-2 11, Alexis Shannon 11 3-4 26, Olivia Morales 1 0-0 2, Haley Conway 1 0-2 2, Sam Salmon 1 0-0 3. Totals 29 8-12 72.
3-Point Goals – Noblesville 6 (Shipman 3, Herron, Shannon, Salmon), Benton Central 3 (Goodman 3).