In a couple of weeks, we’ll officially say goodbye to the 2015 high school basketball graduates with the renewal of the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star series.
So, let’s take a quick look ahead to 2016. Specifically, who are the top candidates for next year’s IndyStar Mr. Basketball? (Annual disclaimer: There are no “official” candidates; voters can vote for any senior player they feel is worthy).
First, a couple of notes:
• The past two Mr. Basketball winners — Trey Lyles in 2014 and Caleb Swanigan in 2015 — led their respective teams to a Class 4A state championship. Since class basketball began in 1997-98, there have been 14 winners from 4A programs, three from 3A programs (the Zeller brothers at Washington) and one from a 2A program (Deshaun Thomas of Fort Wayne Luers in 2010).
• Since 2006, five Mr. Basketball winners have been picked in the first round of the NBA draft (Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, Tyler Zeller, Cody Zeller and Gary Harris) and one in the second round (Thomas). Of the others, Jordan Hulls (2009 winner) was not drafted, Zak Irvin (2013) is still in college at Michigan and Lyles (2014) is expected to be a first-round pick next month.
Here’s a primer on five players that I believe have a strong chance to be in the mix for 2016 Mr. Basketball:
Joey Brunk, Southport: The Cardinals will again be one of the best 4A teams in the state and the 6-10 Brunk is one of the main reasons. Brunk, ranked No. 138 nationally in the class by Rivals.com, averaged 16.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks as a junior. He has several college offers — Butler, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Missouri, New Mexico, Northwestern, Purdue and Xavier. Southport was 23-3 last year and ranked No. 1 in the state but lost a heartbreaker, 49-48, to Pike in the sectional championship. If Southport can advance out of the sectional for the first time since 2000, it would figure to have as strong a shot at winning it all as any team. Brunk also has the benefit of playing alongside guard Paul Scruggs, who will be a top contender for Mr. Basketball in 2017.
C.J. Walker, Tech: The 6-foot guard has one thing many others do not — a state championship ring. Walker, a former Purdue commit, was a sophomore starter on the Tech team that won the 4A title in 2014. Last year, as the lone returning starter, Walker led the Titans to a 15-9 record as he averaged 23.8 points, 3.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals. He shot a whopping 237 free throws (nearly 10 per game), which speaks to how much Walker has the ball in his hands for Tech. He is considering offers from Butler, Florida State, Illinois, Missouri, Pitt, Wichita State and Xavier. Getting out of Sectional 10, which also includes Cathedral, Lawrence Central, Lawrence North, North Central and Warren Central, will be extremely difficult.
Eron Gordon, Cathedral: The 6-2 Gordon only played in the final 11 games of his junior season at Cathedral after he was originally ruled ineligible after his transfer from North Central. He made up for lost time by averaging 24.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, and he led the Irish to an 8-3 record (losing in double overtime to Tech in the sectional semifinal). Gordon hasn’t yet played for a team that has advanced out of the sectional, but Cathedral should have a good shot next year with seniors Gordon and Jordan Walker in the backcourt and several other key players returning. Gordon, with offers from Arizona State, Auburn, Butler, Indiana, Notre Dame and Purdue, is ranked No. 57 nationally in the class by Rivals.
Kyle Guy, Lawrence Central: Like Brunk and Gordon, the 6-2 Guy hasn’t advanced beyond the sectional. It won’t be easy again this year in Sectional 10. But the Bears, coming off an 11-13 season, should be a threat to make a deep tourney run with Guy and senior teammate Mehki Biffle. Guy, a Virginia recruit, averaged 19.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists as a junior. He’s one of the most dangerous outside shooters in the state, hitting 42 percent from the 3-point line (55-for-132) last season.
Damien Jefferson, East Chicago Central: The 6-5 Jefferson is a big-time player. He has offers from Ball State and New Mexico and figures to add to that list this summer. Jefferson averaged 23.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists last season and was named as a core member of the Indiana Junior All-Star team. Jefferson’s chances would be boosted if East Chicago Central can make a run in the tournament. The Cardinals haven’t won a sectional since 2008.
Five more names to watch: Dru Smith, Evansville Reitz; Brachen Hazen, Columbia City; Kyle Mallers, Fort Wayne Carroll; Djimon Henson, Warren Central; Tremell Murphy, Griffith.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.