The high school basketball season concluded Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a flourish as New Albany edged McCutcheon 62-59 in the Class 4A championship, a matchup of two teams that could start next season ranked No. 1 and No. 2.
But before we look forward too far, let’s take a look back at the 2015-16 season. We’ll go through it A to Z:
A is for A-plus. As in, the grade of this year’s girls Indiana All-Star team. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished group than this year’s 13-member team. Princeton’s Jackie Young, Heritage Christian’s Tyasha Harris, Lebanon’s Kristen Spolyar and Roncalli’s Lindsey Corsaro all have credentials worthy of winning IndyStar Miss Basketball presented by the Indiana Fever.
B is for bus accident. When those first images of Griffith’s school bus showed up on social media the afternoon of the team’s Class 3A semistate game March 19, I think everyone feared the worst. The bus was overturned, in a ditch, on the side of I-65. It’s nothing short of a miracle that no one was killed or suffered more serious injuries. I agree with Indiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Bobby Cox that it’s somewhat surprising it is such an isolated incident, considering all the buses that crisscross the state for so many different sports.
C is for Corsaro. The Roncalli senior returned from a knee injury that cut short her junior season and put the Rebels on her back, coming within one game of the state finals. The Kentucky recruit averaged 25.3 points a game and set a number of school records, including points in a career (1,904) and season (607). She was also named to the McDonald’s All-American team.
D is for dynasty. Is New Albany on the verge of putting one together? Easier said than done. But the Bulldogs put one state title in the books on Saturday and – assuming a prep school doesn’t pry him away – New Albany should have two more years of Romeo Langford (more on him below). That’s a good start. Carmel went back-to-back in 2012 and ’13 but the only Class 4A team to win three in a row was Lawrence North from 2004-06. It looks doable from this vantage point, but check back next March when New Albany is the hunted and everybody will want to end the Bulldogs’ run.
E is for eight. As in eight state titles for the Marion Giants. Kudos to Marion for overcoming a tough situation and a late deficit against Griffith in the Class 3A semistate to win 60-58 on a buzzer beater. Then three days later, rallying past a tough Evansville Bosse team, 73-68 in the state finals. Marion didn’t look like a title contender early in the season. Credit coach James Blackmon Sr. and the Marion seniors for getting on track in the tourney. As an aside, it still seems odd to see Marion playing in 3A.
F is for foul. I was worried early in the season that hand-check calls were going to ruin the flow of the game. But players and coaches – for the most part – seemed to adjust to the increased emphasis on hand-check calls.
G is for Griffith. Credit the Panthers for representing themselves well in the aftermath of the bus crash and coming within an eyelash of making it to the Class 3A finals. There were no excuses from the players after the loss to Marion.
H is for Heritage Christian girls. The Eagles, led by Tyasha Harris, moved up a class to 3A and won a third consecutive state title. Rick Risinger has now led the program to seven state titles (all since 2006), which is a record. Harris is a one-of-a-kind talent, though the cupboard isn’t bare for the Eagles. Katlyn Gilbert, a junior-to-be, is up next.
I is for Indianapolis. As in, no Indy teams won state in boys basketball. Lapel in Class 2A was the closest. This is the second consecutive year we haven’t had an Indy-area team in the 4A finals. What does it mean? Not much, in my opinion. The geographic setup of the tournament is designed for teams from the same area to knock one another out. Southport was the best local team this year in 4A but ran into a buzzsaw in the semistate in New Albany.
J is for Jackie Young. It’d be hard to find a better representative for girls basketball in the state than the Princeton star. Young finished her career as the all-time leading scorer in the state with 3,268 points. She led the Tigers to 53 consecutive wins, including a Class 3A title last season, before an upset in the sectional this year. It’ll be fun to see what she does next at Notre Dame.
K is for Kyle Guy.The Lawrence Central star had a unique flair which made him a lot of fun to cover over four years. His senior year was definitely his best. The Bears lost in the sectional championship but Guy, a Virginia recruit, was at his best during sectional week. He averaged 23.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists and was named to the McDonald’s All-American team.
L is for Lebanon’s Kristen Spolyar. The Butler recruit not only set a new single-season scoring record for girls basketball with 1,031 points, but also led Lebanon to a Class 3A regional title. It was the program’s first in 15 years. She finished third in career scoring with 2,882 points.
M is for McCutcheon. We haven’t seen the last of the Mavericks. McCutcheon returns three of its top four scorers next year, including sophomore standout point guard Robert Phinisee. Darnell Butler will be missed but veteran coach Rick Peckinpaugh’s team figures to again be in the mix for a title.
N is for nets. As in scorched nets. Seton Catholic’s Desmond Bane probably put himself in contention for an Indiana All-Star spot with a number of big performances, including a 62-point game against Cambridge City Lincoln.
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O is for officials. I had a chance to sit down with two basketball officials during state finals week to get their perspectives on how they are treated by fans and coaches. It was enlightening. There are good and bad officials, experienced and inexperienced, just like every profession. But for the most part, they care. Give ‘em a break. I saw one coach during the tournament complain about every single call against his team. Every. Single. Call. That’s time that could have been better spent, you know, coaching.
P is for punishment. Was the IHSAA too harsh in ending the seasons of the Pike and Ben Davis girls teams after an on-court fight in mid-January? Opinions differed. But it seems the IHSAA is going to continue to take a hard stance against fighting, even if it means punishing players who had no part in the actual fight.
Q is for question: Who wins Mr. Basketball in 2017? The junior class is a good one. North Central’s Kris Wilkes, Southport’s Paul Scruggs and Park Tudor’s Jaren Jackson Jr. are probably the top players locally. I’d like to get a look at the Junior All-Stars in June before taking a comprehensive look at next year’s race.
R is for Romeo. As in, Romeo Langford. What is this kid going to do next?The 6-4 sophomore has already scored 1,303 points in his two seasons, and won a state title. Damon Bailey’s record of 3,134 points isn’t out of the question. Langford’s demeanor is calm and cool but I did see him smile after winning state.
S is for Southport. The Cardinal finally – finally – broke through and won a sectional for the first time since 2000. And then won the program’s first regional since 1990. The dream was stopped by Langford and his 46-point outburst in the semistate game. But for the past two seasons it’s been great to see so many big crowds out at Southport Fieldhouse. It’s my favorite place to cover a game and so much better when it’s full.
T is for ten. As in Sectional 10. The crowds at Tech all week were amazing and the talent on the floor was too. It’s always tough to see so many great teams and players knocked out the first week of the tournament, but it also makes for an exceptional week of basketball.
U is for ugly. Kyle Cox’s resignation as Park Tudor coach during the season was a stunner. The allegations that he coerced a 15-year-old student to exchange explicit messages was even more stunning – and sickening.
V is for Victor Lee. One of my favorite moments of the season came in a nearly-empty gym at New Palestine as Manual pounded Marshall in the final minutes. Victor Lee, a senior for Marshall, caught my eye for taking a charge, diving on the floor for a ball and calling a timeout. Lee, it turned out, had played junior varsity much of the season as a senior on a one-win team. I asked Lee after the game why he played so hard with the outcome decided. He said he did it to set an example for the younger guys. Perfect.
W is for Walker. Tech’s C.J. Walker put together one of the best high school careers in the senior class, including a state title as a sophomore. He finished with 1,598 career points to rank second in Tech’s history. The Florida State recruit averaged 24.6 points and 5.4 assists per game as a senior.
X is for extreme emotions. It was heartbreaking to see Howe coach Mosi Barnes in the postgame press conference after the 2A championship loss to Lapel struggle to gather himself after he was asked about senior Kip Warren. The room was silent for 25 seconds. Tough to watch but also enlightening to see the emotional connection between coach and player.
Y is for youth. Five of the state’s top 10 scorers are back next year. Butler recruit Cooper Neese of Cloverdale (29.5 ppg) is poised for a huge senior season.
Z is zebras. How many Zebras are there in Rochester, anyway?
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.