Another year, another sweep for the boys IndyStar Indiana All-Stars. With a 16th consecutive win over Kentucky in the books — though it took a white-knuckle save Sunday at Bellarmine University for a 99-96 win — here are a few thoughts, suggestions and notes on the Indiana All-Stars:
>>> Let’s get right to it with the elephant in the room. The boys team had just eight players available for Sunday’s game in Louisville. That’s a bad look, no matter how you slice it. The All-Stars went into the week with only 11 players due to Cathedral’s Eron Gordon enrolling early at Seton Hall and Bloomington South’s Tucker Blackwell out with an ankle injury.
Three others, including Mr. Basketball Kyle Guy of Lawrence Central, played Saturday but missed Sunday. Guy needed to arrive at Virginia on Sunday, and the travel to and from Louisville was going to make it next to impossible. Tech’s C.J. Walker also faced travel issues getting to Florida State, and Fort Wayne Carroll’s Kyle Mallers had high school graduation.
Those are all reasonable explanations to miss the game. This isn’t, at all, meant to criticize those three. But something in the process of selecting the Indiana All-Stars needs to change. All-Star game director Charlie Hall told me as much before Sunday’s game. He said, in part, that “going forward we are going to identify ways to better assure the players selected to the team will be able to fulfill their entire commitment.”
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Basically, this: You’re either all the way committed or not. I believe, in the future, Hall will ask that the 13-player rosters — boys and girls — verbally agree to commit for the full week. If a player is unable to commit, Hall will move down the list and select the next-best player at that position.
In fairness, it hasn’t been that much of an issue in recent years. Mr. Basketball Caleb Swanigan missed in 2015 because of a conflict with USA Basketball, and Michigan City Marquette’s Ryan Fazekas, also in 2015, enrolled early at Providence and dropped out of All-Star week. There have been a handful of other partial absences in Hall’s eight years; not a high percentage considering that more than 200 All-Stars have been selected in that time.
Hall said it was a “perfect storm” that led to Sunday’s eight-man roster. It may never happen that way again. But it’s also not worth risking.
>>>Credit the eight boys who did play Sunday. How many times do you see players logging 38, 34, 33, 30 and 28 minutes in an all-star game? Those were the numbers for Eugene German, Desmond Bane, Dru Smith, Joey Brunk and Tremell Murphy, respectively. The minutes probably caught up with them late, as Kentucky charged back from a 19-point deficit to nearly send it to overtime. But a win is a win.
>>>How good was the Northern Illinois-bound German all week? Wow. If DeKalb, Ill., were closer, I might buy season tickets. German, a two-time state scoring champ from Class A Gary 21st Century, has an extra gear that makes him exceptional in the open court. He pumped in 34 points Sunday after leading the All-Stars with 20 on Saturday. He’s probably going to need to distribute the ball a little more at the next level, but his fearlessness is to be admired. Murphy called him the “Walking Question Mark” earlier in the week because you never know what move he’ll make. I love that.
>>> I was on four sports talk radio shows Friday and I believe in each one I was asked whether Indiana should continue the series against a state other than Kentucky. Maybe Ohio, Illinois or Michigan. Those states have a reputation for producing more high school talent than Kentucky. It looks good on paper. But what makes anyone think a series against Indiana would mean anything to Illinois, Michigan or Ohio? Is there any guarantee the best players from those states are going to participate? I’d say no. I’d argue a better option — if the time comes to end the series with Kentucky — is to make the games against the Junior All-Stars the centerpiece of the week.
>>>Speaking of the Junior All-Stars … anybody excited for next season? The game Thursday at Lebanon, a 103-90 win for the Juniors, showed why the 2017 in-state class is so highly regarded. Kris Wilkes. Paul Scruggs. Malik Williams. Jaren Jackson Jr. Jack Nunge. Talent and size all over the place.
>>>Northeastern’s Tyler Smith, another of the talented junior class, looked vastly improved in the game Thursday. The guard was a catalyst for the Juniors in the win, finishing with 15 points and six assists in 15 minutes off the bench.
>>> Another narrative I think is a bit off the mark is that the Kentucky boys haven’t been competitive in this series. Yes, Indiana has won 16 in a row and 24 of 25. That’s dominance. The 16-game streak is the longest since the series began in 1940.
But there have been plenty of close calls as well, including Sunday. In 2010, in Louisville, Indiana was down by 11 with five minutes left and rallied for a 100-97 win. In 2011 in Louisville, Andrew Smeathers hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 29 seconds left and Marquis Teague made the game-winner with ninth-tenths of a second left for a 105-103 win. The 2012 team trailed by four points with five minutes left at Freedom Hall before rallying for a 90-85 win. Last year, Indiana escaped with an 83-80 win in Lexington.
The games in Kentucky have been competitive. In Indiana, not as much.
>>>A tip of the cap to the 2016 girls Indiana All-Stars. Jackie Young, Tyasha Harris, Lindsey Corsaro, Kristen Spolyar and company will go down as one of the most accomplished senior classes of all time. Girls basketball players in Indiana are fortunate to have those four to look up to.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.