Kip Warren took a hard-line approach to leadership at the beginning of his senior basketball season at Howe.
With Harris Brown – an IndyStar Indiana All-Star last season – gone to graduation, Warren figured he needed to assert himself vocally.
“I was yelling at them a lot,” Warren said. “And I’d see that they’d get down on themselves.”
Warren, a 6-foot lefty guard, eased off. Instead of lashing out after a young teammate made a mistake, he encouraged. It worked. Howe, a team loaded with underclassmen, responded to Warren’s lead.
The seventh-ranked Hornets (22-7) will play unranked Providence (19-7) Saturday at the Tiernan Center in Richmond in a Class 2A semistate game. The winner will earn a spot in the state finals next week at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It hasn’t been an easy road. Since the beginning of the season, Howe has lost six varsity players for various reasons. Warren (22.9 points per game) does much of the heavy lifting, but he has also raised the level of the players around him.
“Without leadership, I don’t think we’d be here,” Warren said. “We’d just be a bunch of young kids making mistakes. We need somebody to encourage them. When they got their confidence up, it made us a much better team.”
Case in point was the regional championship game Saturday night in Greenfield. Fourth-ranked Northeastern had the ball in the final seconds with the score tied 53-all. Howe freshman Kycia Washington, recalling a “zigzag drill” the Hornets run every day in practice, stole the ball and pushed it ahead to sophomore Tony Hopkins for a game-winning layup just ahead of the buzzer.
“That drill was going through my head when I made that steal,” Washington said. “Then I saw Tony up ahead and passed it up to him.”
Hopkins (12.2 ppg) and Washington (9.8 ppg) are Howe’s top offensive producers after Warren, who was named first team All-City. After that, coach Mosi Barnes said, “it’s a different guy every night.”
“We had some guys who started off with us and aren’t with us now,” Barnes said. “We’ve had so many different starting lineups. But there’s a fundamental element to basketball. No matter who you plug in there, you have to make free throws and box out. Some of the unpredictability of who we are has probably played to our advantage at times.”
Howe hasn’t played in a semistate since 1981. The Hornets, led by Greg Cheatham and John Jointer, were ranked fourth in the state that year and considered a prohibitive favorite to win the Hinkle Semistate. But after rolling past Columbus North in the afternoon game, the Hornets were upset by Shenandoah 57-49. Shenandoah was led by now-Carmel coach Scott Heady’s 26 points.
This Howe team is probably a bit more of a surprise to make it to this point, at least from the outside.
“There have been a lot of times these guys could have given up, not just in games but on a day-to-day basis,” Barnes said. “But they’ve kept it together. They love the game and love each other. I think that’s the biggest attribute to why we are here now.”
Washington practiced against Warren and Brown last year as an eighth grader. Earlier this year, as a freshman, he was one of the main players Warren got after in practice. That was tough, but Washington said it made him better in the long run.
“He’s like a big brother to me,” Washington said of Warren. “I look up to him. I knew he was going to get on me because I was a freshman. It comes with the territory. But I took it in and worked to get better as the season went on.”
Now Howe stands on the brink of making the 4.3-mile trek west to Bankers Life Fieldhouse next week.
“We’ve believed this was possible since game one,” Hopkins said. “Now we just have to do it.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
Saturday’s area semistate games
Howe (22-7) vs. Providence (19-7), 1 p.m.
What to watch: Providence will likely have a home-court advantage as the New Albany faithful are expected to show up in force and cheer for its neighbor. … This will be a contrast in styles. Howe (73.2 ppg) likes a frenetic pace. Providence (52.3 ppg) prefers a more methodical offensive approach. The Pioneers are led by junior guard Juston Betz (13.4 ppg, 3.2 assists) and senior Griffin Libs (10.3 ppg, 5.2 rebounds). Neither team has ever made it to the state finals.
Southport (22-6) vs. New Albany (25-1), 3 p.m.
What to watch: These teams were ranked No. 1 (Southport) and No. 2 (New Albany) in the preseason. New Albany is ranked No. 1 now, while Southport is No. 9 but has won 15 games in a row. … The Bulldogs are led by 6-4 sophomore Romeo Langford (29.6 ppg, 9.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists) but also have capable players in 6-foot junior Isaac Hibbard (14.9 ppg) and 6-foot senior Josh Jefferson (12.3 ppg). Southport has plenty of star power too, led by 6-10 Butler recruit and senior Joey Brunk (18.1 ppg, 8.4 rebounds) and 6-3 junior Paul Scruggs (19.0 ppg, 7.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists). Junior guard Blake Evans (6.2 ppg, 2.8 assists) and freshman guard Harold Bennett (6.2 ppg, 2.4 assists) have emerged in the second half of the season. … Senior Eli Walton (6.1 ppg, 2.8 rebounds) figures to get the assignment on Langford, at least part of the time. … These teams haven’t met since the 1981-82 season. Neither has won a semistate in the class basketball era (since 1998).
Tri-West (22-6) vs. Evansville Bosse (18-10), 6 p.m.
What to watch: Surprise, surprise. Tri-West, after winning its third consecutive sectional, captured the program’s first regional title last weekend in Greencastle. Sophomore guard Tyler Watson (20.1 ppg, 4.3 rebounds) and junior Peyton Hendershot (13.0 ppg, 10.3 rebounds) lead a team that should be tough again next year. … Bosse was 4-6 at one point this season and would have lost its first sectional game to Evansville Memorial if not for a last-second 3-pointer by sophomore Mekhi Lairy (a 67-66 win). Bosse played in the 2007 Class 3A state finals, losing to Plymouth.
Fort Wayne Canterbury (16-10) vs. Lapel (24-4), 3 p.m.
What to watch: Second-ranked Lapel has been pushed in the tournament, including a 52-51 win over Oak Hill last year in the regional championship. The Bulldogs are a balanced team, led by 6-6 junior Jon Ross Richardson (15.4 ppg, 5.1 rebounds), 6-3 senior Kamron Herrington (14.5 ppg, 3.5 assists) and 6-4 senior Triston Carpenter (10.2 ppg, 8.8 rebounds). Lapel won its only state title, in Class A, in 2005. … Canterbury is 8-0 against 2A opponents this season. The Cavaliers are led by junior Jalen Paul (18.4 ppg, 4.7 assists), senior Tanner Camp (12.6 ppg, 11.0 rebounds) and senior Nathan White (11.7 ppg).