It might seem like a new chapter of Pike basketball is beginning this season. With the graduation of guard Justin Thomas and transfer of guard Justin Roberts to Findlay Prep, the Red Devils will take on a decidedly different look.
“We may only have four guys on the roster who have played significant minutes at the varsity level,” Pike coach Bill Zych said. “This is a team that has some good players, probably under-the-radar type of players. As the season goes on, I think they’ll be all right.”
Three players – Roberts (16.8 ppg), Thomas (15.5 ppg) and another graduated senior, Derek Hawthorne (13.9 ppg) – accounted for 67 percent of Pike’s scoring for a team that finished 17-8. The Red Devils started fast, knocking off eventual state champion New Albany and winning the Marion County tournament on the way to 13-2. Pike faded from there, losing to Southport to snap a streak of five consecutive sectional titles.
The lone returning starter from that year is Isiah James, a lean 6-5 senior who averaged 6.1 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds. Zych, who is 112-43 going into his seventh season at Pike, expects to use James in a variety of ways this season.
“He got us a lot of garbage buckets last year,” Zych said of James. “He’s expanded his game this year. He can shoot the ball from the perimeter and he’s got good quickness taking it to the bucket. I know his game is going to elevate and he’s going to have more opportunities to score. I think he’s going to have a great senior year.”
James, who shot 57 percent from the field last year, is eager to take on a bigger role.
“I feel like I can play on the wing and attack the basket more instead of just getting rebounds and going back up,” he said. “I can mix it up really well. My role is going to change a lot because I have to be bigger part of the offense. With this group coming in, I feel like we play more with each other. It’s not so much one-on-one.”
Darian Porch, a 6-5 junior, is another player expected to take on an expanded role. Porch averaged 4.1 points and 3.6 last season and shot 69 percent from the field as a sophomore.
“Darian is similar to Isiah in stature and the type of game they play,” Zych said. “He was our first post player off the bench last year. Darian, like Isiah, is going to have an inside and outside game.”
The guards returning with experience are 5-10 senior Justin Williams (3.6 ppg) and 6-foot senior Elijah Pennington (1.6 ppg, 1.5 assists). Williams shot 45 percent (18-for-40) from the 3-point line last year. Pennington is more of a pass-first point guard.
“Pennington is a guard that has been waiting his turn,” Zych said. “Sometimes that’s what you have to do at Pike. You may not get a chance until your senior year. He’ll be a good floor leader and be the type of guard who will distribute and get us in the right places. Justin (Williams) came in and hit some big shots for us last year.”
From there, the rotation becomes more uncertain. Brandon Vernon, a 6-4 sophomore, averaged 1.7 points in 19 varsity games last year and could fill the fifth starting position. Another sophomore, Ahmoni Jones, will contribute after he missed all of last season due to injury. Others in the mix are 6-2 sophomore Chris Robinson, 5-9 sophomore A.J. White and 6-foot sophomore Caleb Redman. The juniors who played on the junior varsity team last year are 5-11 guard Jaren Diggins, 5-8 guard Ditwan Gary and 5-9 guard Tyree Pegues.
Zych is encouraged despite the relative uncertainty of this year’s team.
“We have seniors who have been in the program and know what it takes to win,” he said. “I think they are really competitive. We had 13 kids playing varsity games this summer and we have good young players in the program. We want to see what they can do.”
James said the competition has ramped up this fall.
“We want to go out with a state championship,” he said. “I’m confident we’re going to make our mark.”
Why Pike could be higher: Talented players in the sophomore class will emerge, possibly sooner than later. James and Porch were in the background last year but appear ready to step into the spotlight.
Why Pike could be lower: So much production is gone from a year that it creates question marks. When is the last time Pike had this much inexperience in the backcourt entering a season?
Circle the date: Dec. 27-28. Pike is playing in the Noblesville tournament, opening with a tough game against Bloomington South.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.