Depending on your point of view, the high school boys basketball season is either winding down or heating up. With sectional play beginning next week, it’s also crunch time for those looking to make a final push for IndyStar Mr. Basketball presented by the Indiana Pacers.
Who are the front-runners? Again, it probably depends on your point of view. There are a few trends worth noting, before we get to the names:
• The past two winners were Homestead’s Caleb Swanigan (2015) and Tech’s Trey Lyles (2014). Both led their respective teams to Class 4A state championships. Since class basketball began in 1997-98, there have been 14 winners from 4A programs, three from 3A programs (the Zeller brothers, Luke, Tyler and Cody, at Washington) and one from a 2A program (Deshaun Thomas of Fort Wayne Luers in 2010).
• Since 2006, six Mr. Basketball winners have been picked in the first round of the NBA draft (Greg Oden, Eric Gordon, Tyler Zeller, Cody Zeller, Gary Harris and Lyles) and one in the second (Thomas). Jordan Hulls (2009) was not drafted and Zak Irvin (2013) is a junior at Michigan.
• There was one boys player from Indiana named to the McDonald’s All American team this year – Lawrence Central’s Kyle Guy. Since the first McDonald’s team was named in 1977, there have been 16 years when one in-state player has been selected. Nine times, that player was also Mr. Basketball. Seven times, it was a different player. The latest example of the latter was in 2013 when Hamilton Southeastern’s Irvin was voted Mr. Basketball but Mishawaka Marian’s Demetrius Jackson was the lone McDonald’s All American. But seven of the past eight times it has happened, the same player was also named Mr. Basketball (including Swanigan last year).
Find out who wins this year’s IndyStar Mr. Basketball at the inaugural Indiana Sports Awards hosted by Indiana Fever coach Stephanie White, featuring keynote speaker Andrew Luck.
Mr. Basketball, presented by the Indiana Pacers, is voted on by coaches and media throughout the state. Here’s a look at the likely candidates for 2016:
Kyle Guy, Lawrence Central
The 6-2 Virginia recruit, as noted above, is the state’s only boys’ player named to the McDonald’s All America team this year. He’s led the Class 4A fourth-ranked Bears to a 17-5 record against the No. 1 schedule in the state, according to the Sagarin ratings. Guy broke the school’s all-time scoring record and this season is averaging 23.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals. He’s shooting 45 percent from the 3-point line (50-for-111) and 87 percent from the free throw line (123-for-141).
Chances: Guy has put himself in a good position with a strong senior year individually and for his team. One more win would give Lawrence Central its most in 20 years. Getting out of Sectional 10 is a tough assignment, but the Bears have defeated every team in the sectional this season except for Tech, which it will play in the first round on Tuesday.
C.J. Walker, Tech
The 6-foot Florida State recruit probably had a good argument for the McDonald’s team but wasn’t named. It doesn’t mean Walker doesn’t have a chance in this race. He’s the only guy on this list who has won a state championship already, as a starting point guard on Tech’s 2014 team. He’s averaging 24.5 points, 5.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 steals this season. Walker is shooting 38 percent on 3-pointers (44-for-115) and 79 percent from the free throw line (142-for-180).
Chances: Walker is capable of putting a team on his back as he did last year when the Titans made it to the sectional final before losing to Lawrence North. He has a long list of accomplishments, including a City tournament title this year. Walker and Tech get a chance to go head-to-head with Guy and Lawrence Central in Sectional 10 on Tuesday.
Damien Jefferson, East Chicago Central
The 6-5 New Mexico commit was one of six core selections for the Junior All-Stars last year. This year, Class 4A East Chicago Central is 15-5 and owns solid wins over Lawrence Central, Griffith and Chesterton, among others. Jefferson is averaging 26.4 points and 8.8 rebounds this season, numbers that should make him a lock for the IndyStar Indiana All-Star team. That’s after averaging 23.4 points and 9.9 rebounds as a junior.
Chances: East Chicago Central probably needs to get out of its sectional for the first time in eight years for Jefferson to have a shot. Jefferson played well with the Junior All-Stars last year, more than showing he belonged. A strong tournament would help.
Joey Brunk, Southport
The 6-10 Butler recruit missed three games early this season with a sprained ankle but has returned to help the 4A Cardinals (16-6) right the ship and win nine consecutive games going into Friday’s regular-season finale against Lawrence Central. Brunk is averaging 17.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots. He’s shooting 60 percent from the field and 74 percent from the free throw line (73-for-99).
Chances: This is a case where the tournament could make a difference. Southport hasn’t won a sectional since 2000. Brunk and the Cardinals will get nemesis Pike in the first round of the sectional – at home – on Tuesday. Brunk could generate some support with a strong tourney.
Desmond Bane, Seton Catholic
The 6-5 Bane, an uncommitted guard with Division I offers, has put himself at least in the discussion for an Indiana All-Star spot with a huge season. Playing for a Class A program, Bane is averaging 29.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.2 blocked shots per game. He’s shooting 53 percent from the 3-point line (48-for-90) and 83 percent from the free throw line (126-for-151).
Chances: There’s never been a Mr. Basketball from a Class A school. That’s working against him. But Bane did put up big games against Richmond (33 points, 15 rebounds) and Warren Central (35 points, 12 rebounds). Seton Catholic probably needs to win state for Bane to get a serious look.
Dru Smith, Evansville Reitz
The 6-3 Evansville recruit helped Reitz to a runner-up showing in the 4A tournament last year and a 29-2 record. Reitz has stayed in the top 10 this season with an 18-4 record. Smith is averaging 20.8 points, 6.8 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 steals. He’s also at a better rate from the 3-point line (33 percent, 24-for-72) and the free throw line (81 percent, 114-for-140). Smith is a stat-sheet stuffer and a playmaker.
Chances: Smith should generate some support from Southern Indiana, particularly if Reitz can get out of the sectional and regional. Castle is the biggest challenge in the sectional, while the regional could include Franklin Central, Bloomington South and New Albany. Not easy.
Eron Gordon, Cathedral
The 6-2 Gordon missed a large chunk of his junior year after transferring from North Central but has put together a good finish to his high school career at Cathedral. Gordon is averaging 19.0 points and 5.0 rebounds this season for the Irish, who are 16-5 going into Thursday’s regular-season finale.
Chances: There has only been one Mr. Basketball from a private or parochial school – Deshaun Thomas of Fort Wayne Luers in 2010. Cathedral and Gordon have played better late in the season, but the Irish will need to make a deep tournament run.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.