As the boys basketball season officially begins Monday, here are five ECI players to watch, in addition to Central’s Andre Jones.
Hayden Castor, Wapahani
Castor has made his name as an All-State baseball player, but his winters on the hardwood have been just as productive. “He’s a tremendous baseball player, but we think he’s a darn good basketball player, too. Due to his athleticism and intelligence, he’s made himself into a very good player,” Wapahani coach Matt Luce said. The 6-foot-3 forward is coming off a junior season in which he averaged 16.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, both of which led the Raiders. This season, Luce ventures that Castor might also lead in charges taken and assists. But with two sophomore starters, leading the team in another category is paramount. “More importantly, he’s going to lead us in leadership,” Luce says. “We’re going to need Hayden to help them understand the big picture and keep them focused. If we have success this year, it’ll be because of his leadership.”
Phil Corthen, Central
Corthen scored out of necessity as a junior, and the 5-foot-11 guard did so at an impressive clip, averaging 17.4 per contest. A deadeye shooter, Corthen canned 72 of 155 3-point attempts (46 percent). But in the preseason, he talked about being more of a distributor in his senior campaign, balancing attacking with facilitating. “He is a point guard, but we needed him to score (last season),” says Central coach Jeff Holloway. “Now he’s more comfortable with some of his teammates. He’s not a selfish player, but if he thinks you’re not going to do anything with it, he’d rather take the shot. He’s just that confident in himself. But now that he has guys he can trust offensively, all offseason and preseason, he’s been unselfish.” Corthen averaged two assists last season, but with Andre Jones, Trenton Hatfield, Jamel Barnes, Donald Allen, Duane Clemens and Tyrek Vicks all capable of big scoring nights, that number should climb this season.
Adam Dirksen, Jay County
The great mystery last season was the size of Jay County’s leading scorer. Rosters listed Dirksen at 6-foot-3, but he was actually several inches taller. This season, first-year coach Chris Krieg said the senior is up to 6-8. And in being 6-8, he’ll bring all the things that sort of size gives, like an ability to rebound and play above the rim. And he may also bring some of the things not typically expected of someone 6-8. “He can actually step out and shoot the 3 pretty decently. He’s been working on that in the offseason.” Coming off a junior season in which he averaged 14.8 points per game, Krieg estimates Dirksen can be in the 15-20 range this season. With 6-5 junior Jay Houck (14.2 ppg), the Patriots possess one of the top scoring duos in the area.
Kiante Enis, Winchester
Forgive Enis if he doesn’t pick up where he left off last season when he dropped 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Shenandoah in the sectional. The Michigan football commit spent the fall rushing for 2,393 and 35 touchdowns in the Golden Falcons’ run to a sectional championship. Now the 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard transitions to the hardwood, where he makes just as big of an impact. He averaged 23.3 points per game last season and if not for his boundless potential on the gridiron, he’d probably be preparing for a college basketball career. Switching him from the wing to handling the ball late last season produced big results, and he’ll assume a similar role this season. “We kind of held that in our pocket last year,” says coach Matt Fine. “We put the ball in his hands the last month of the season and he just made great decisions with the ball. He’s as explosive as any kid that I’ve had as far as being able to get ball one end of the floor to the other. He really started making really good decisions with the ball.”
Israel Nash, Monroe Central
Just 12 seconds into Monroe Central’s scrimmage last week, Israel Nash turned his ankle, and he’s questionable for the season opener Tuesday. But if the 5-foot-9 sophomore point guard showed anything last year it was that it’s not about the start, but the finish. Nash began his freshman season playing around eight minutes a game, but by the end of the season emerged as the Golden Bears’ best player. He had five 20-point games in the second half of the season, including 32 in a sectional win over Southern Wells, and finished the season averaging 11.4 points per game. He’s making the most of his time on the sidelines now, too, helping coach the junior varsity. He’s not afraid to share his thoughts with the man in charge, either. “He’s given me a few ideas for us to get more energy at the beginning of practice, get guys going,” head coach Justin Ullom says. “He came to me with few ideas after practice. To see a sophomore doing that, you love it. I’m expecting a lot out of him this season.”
Contact sports features writer Ryan O’Gara at (765) 213-5829. Follow him on Twitter @RyanOGaraTSP.