Excuse Kent Adams if he gets a little caught up in the excitement surrounding Crispus Attucks’ first visit to the high school basketball state finals since 1959 — even if Adams is on the opposing sideline as the coach at Twin Lakes.
“We’re hoping we can shake Oscar Robertson’s hand,” Adams said. “What a great honor that would be.”
There are seven other teams in Saturday’s state basketball finals, but Attucks’ return to prominence is the story of the weekend. Attucks, a school built in 1927 to serve the city’s African-American students, made history in 1955 as the country’s first all-black school to win an open state championship. The “Flying Tigers” won two more state championships, in 1956 and ’59, capping a decade of basketball dominance.
Robertson, the state’s Mr. Basketball in 1956 and widely considered the best all-round player ever from Indiana, is expected in attendance Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as Attucks plays Twin Lakes for the Class 3A championship.
“This is our chance to bring attention to Attucks again,” said senior Teyon Scanlan, the team’s second-leading scorer. “This is our chance to make history.”
There are ties between those vintage years of the 1950s and this year’s team. Bill Hampton, a senior on the 1955 team who was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame this week, talked to the team prior to this past week’s semistate win over Evansville Bosse. His message: “Always play like you are down 10 points.”
That was the philosophy of the Attucks teams in the 1940s and ‘50s, when they had to travel the state to find games to play. The Indiana High School Athletic Association first allowed Catholic and black schools in its tournament in 1943.
The current Attucks team and students were refreshed on much of the history of the school and the basketball program when Ted Green’s documentary, “Attucks: The School That Opened a City” was shown to students at the beginning of the school year.
“The story (still resonates) because of what they overcame,” Attucks senior Zac Owens said. “The school was actually designed to fail. I think once people saw that it could succeed, it brought people together. The name ‘Attucks’ brings people joy. As they see us doing it again, I think it reminds people of the past. It brings it all back together.”
There was little reason to believe Attucks would ever return to the pinnacle. The Tigers won sectional titles in 1970, ’72 and ’73, but had faded as a basketball power by the time the school was converted to a junior high in 1986, winning just four games the 1985-86 season. The conversion back to a high school began in 2006 and the first class graduated in 2010.
In 2013-14, the basketball program notched its first winning season since the restart and captured a Class 2A sectional title. The following year, the Tigers went 19-6 and advanced to a 2A regional final under coach Phil Washington.
But Washington was removed as coach during last season after the IHSAA ruled that Jamal Harris and Owens had transferred to Attucks from Anderson for athletic reasons and Washington had violated the IHSAA’s undue influence. Washington was hired as coach at Anderson but let go after he was arrested in July for driving while intoxicated.
First-year coach Chris Hawkins is quick to credit Washington for building the program back. Washington has been in attendance for many of the Attucks’ postseason games.
“I knew the ingredients were here,” said Hawkins, previously an assistant at Brebeuf Jesuit and Shortridge. “Coach Washington did a great job building the program. Then once I got there, I had to look at the JV team and varsity kids we had returning. I thought we had a shot, but we knew getting out of the sectional would be tough.”
Attucks got out of the sectional and hasn’t looked back. Meanwhile, the bandwagon has filled up again with Attucks’ supporters.
“It’s good for our students and our basketball players to see it and let them know it’s bigger than basketball,” Hawkins said. “It’s for our whole school, our community and our alumni. The support is everywhere.”
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
IHSAA boys basketball state finals games
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Tickets: $15 per session.
TV:Fox Sports Indiana and webcast on at IHSAAtv.org.
Games at a glance
Lafayette Central Catholic (22-6) vs. Tindley (23-5), 10:30 a.m.
Coaches: David Barrett, Lafayette Central Catholic (219-92 in 12th year overall and at LCC). Bob Wonnell, Tindley (154-87 in 10th year overall and at Tindley).
What to know: This is a matchup many anticipated at the beginning of the tournament. No team has come within 14 points of Tindley in six tourney games. The Tigers are led by star junior Eric Hunter (26.1 ppg, 7.1 rebounds) and fellow juniors Hunter White (17.4 ppg, 6.1 rebounds) and K.J. Coleman (11.3 ppg). Tindley averages 73.3 points per game. It shoots 44 percent from the 3-point line. LCC plays a tough regular-season schedule as well with all of its six losses coming to 3A and 4A programs. The Knights are a balanced team, led by 6-3 senior Avery Denhart (16.0 ppg), 6-2 senior Ben Tharp (14.0 ppg, 5.4 rebounds) and 6-3 freshman Carson Barrett (10.3 ppg, 6.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists).
The pick: I like Tindley to win its first state title, but expect this to be by far the Tigers’ toughest test in the postseason.
Frankton (22-6) vs. Crawford County (22-6), 12:45 p.m.
Coaches: Brent Brobston, Frankton (135-85 in ninth year overall and at Frankton). Levi Carmichael, Crawford County (39-14 in second season at Crawford County and 55-41 in fourth year overall).
What to know: Expect a big crowd from both sides. Frankton is making its second state finals appearance in three years after losing to Park Tudor in the 2015 game. The Eagles have won three close games in a row, edging Southwood (65-61) and Covington (54-52) in the regional and Marquette Catholic in overtime (77-75) in semistate this past week. Frankton is led by 6-4 senior Maurice Knight (21.5 ppg, 7.2 rebounds) and 6-1 sophomore Kayden Key (12.7 ppg, 5.2 assists). Crawford County is making its first state finals appearance. The Wolfpack don’t light up the scoreboard, but have six players averaging between 5.8 points and 10.8 points per game. Adam Beasley, a 6-3 senior, leads the way (10.8 ppg). The Wolfpack haven’t allowed any of their five tournament opponents to score more than 40 points.
The pick: Frankton. The Eagles win their first title.
Twin Lakes (25-3) vs. Crispus Attucks (24-4), 6 p.m.
Coaches: Kent Adams, Twin Lakes (287-197, 21st season at Twin Lakes and 357-302 in 29th season overall). Chris Hawkins (24-4 in first season overall and at Attucks).
What to know: Twin Lakes is one of the most balanced teams you’ll find. The Indians have five players — led by seniors Bryce Bennington (12.1 ppg) and Blake Bennington (11.4 ppg) — averaging between 9.2 and 12.1 points. Twin Lakes had to survive close games with Culver Academy (39-38) and Griffith (69-64 in overtime) on its way to its first state finals appearance. Attucks is one of the state’s highest-scoring teams, averaging 79.3 points a game. The Tigers, making their first state finals appearance since 1959, are led by 6-4 senior Nike Sibande (22.0 ppg, 7.2 rebounds) and 6-1 senior Teyon Scanlan (12.2 ppg). Attucks can light it up in a hurry.
The pick: Attucks.
Fort Wayne North Side (27-2) vs. Ben Davis (22-5), 8:15 p.m.
Coaches: Shabaz Khaliq, Fort Wayne North Side (124-43 in seventh season at North Side and 154-57 in ninth season overall). Mark James, Ben Davis (99-47 in sixth season at Ben Davis and 537-277 in 35th season overall).
What to know: North Side is as impressive an offensive team as you’ll find anywhere. The Legends are led by 6-8 sophomore star Keion Brooks (20.5 ppg, 7.4 rebounds) and 6-11 senior and DePaul recruit Jaylen Butz (17.3 ppg, 12.6 rebounds). North Side has plenty of other weapons as well, including senior guard Juan Quarles (10.8 ppg), a long-range bomber. Ben Davis isn’t quite as high octane, but is playing its best basketball of the season, led by 6-6 junior Aaron Henry (14.3 ppg, 6.7 rebounds). The Giants can really shoot it from the 3-point line, hitting 40 percent the season. Seniors Datrion Harper (11.5 ppg), Jalen Newsom (10.2 ppg) and Josh Brewer (10.0 ppg, 4.8 rebounds) are all capable offensive threats.
The pick: I’ll go with the slight upset pick and take Ben Davis.