Bob Wonnell wasn’t a happy camper at the start of practice Thursday.
The 10th-year Tindley basketball coach had to gather his team for a group photo to be used in the official Indiana High School Athletic Association program for next week’s state finals. That is, if Tindley makes it to the state finals.
“Hopefully,” Wonnell said, “they can use the photo.”
There’s one more game to go. The Class A third-ranked Tigers (22-5) play unranked New Washington (20-9) in the Richmond Semistate at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Tiernan Center. After two years of knocking on the door and making it to the regional, Tindley busted through last week in Martinsville with wins over Shakamak (64-49) and Lutheran (78-62).
“Every round of the tournament, we call it our ‘state championship,’” Wonnell said. “We’re a really, really good team and we have a lot of juniors. But nothing is promised. Once you get this chance, you have to maximize it. I think right now, we have a really good focus.”
It’s been one step at a time for Wonnell and Tindley since the program first became sectional-eligible in 2007-08. The charter school, located northeast of 38th Street and Keystone Ave., lost its first sectional basketball game to Lutheran by 44 points.
But the program quickly gained traction under Wonnell, winning sectional titles in 2015 and ’16. Another big step for the program came last season when it was allowed to play in the City tournament for the first time.
“People around the city know who we are now,” said 6-3 junior Eric Hunter. “When we go somewhere else, they still ask us where we’re from. We heard it last week. Somebody told me they’d never heard of Tindley before.”
Hunter has played a big role in getting the word out. The left-handed guard is averaging 26.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists and shooting a blistering 53 percent from the 3-point line (77-for-144). Hunter, who has 1,805 career points and could finish his career in the top five in state history, has played some of his best games against top competition, including a 40-point game in an 89-86 loss to Crispus Attucks.
“One of the neat things I hear about Hunter from college coaches, ironically one was (former Indiana coach) Tom Crean, say how his demeanor never changes,” Wonnell said. “He’s always upbeat, he always goes on to the next play. He never looks under stress. I think that carries weight with everybody else.”
Hunter has a talented group around him, including junior guard Hunter White (17.4 ppg, 6.1 rebounds) and junior guard K.J. Coleman (11.3 ppg).
The Tigers are playing a New Washington team that started the season 8-7 but has been riding a hot streak in the tournament. The Mustangs have won their five tournament games by a combined 24 points and none by more than seven. New Washington will have a size advantage with 6-3 senior Zach Moore (14.7 ppg) and 6-8 senior Stevie Mack (11.1 ppg) inside.
“We don’t feel like we can walk into any gym and win just because our name is Tindley but we feel like we belong,” Wonnell said. “We know that if we play the way we play and play smart, solid basketball, we have a shot. We’re more confident. There’s a different belief about it this year.”
With a couple more wins, the team photo taken before practice on Thursday might soon be hanging in Tindley’s gym.
“We can think about next week if we win Saturday,” White said. “It’s hard not to, but we have one more game to win.”
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
A closer look at Saturday’s other local semistate games:
Ben Davis (21-5) vs. Castle (24-3), 3 p.m.
Outlook: In order to reach their first state championship game since 1996, the Giants may have to put together their best game of the season. Castle, coming off a 72-64 win over defending state champion New Albany and star Romeo Langford in last week’s regional championship, is loaded. The Knights, who have never advanced to the state finals, are led by 6-10 senior and Iowa recruit Jack Nunge. The senior standout is gaining traction as an IndyStar Mr. Basketball candidate, averaging 22.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.6 blocked shots and 2.5 assists per game. He can step out and shoot as well, hitting 38 percent (35-for-93) from the 3-point line. But what makes Castle so tough is the balance elsewhere. Alex Hemenway, a 6-3 sophomore, is averaging 15.0 points and a team-high 3.7 assists. Payton Mills, a 6-5 senior, averages 13.0 points and 6.3 rebounds and Brandon Eades, a 6-2 senior, averages 9.6 points and 3.0 assists. Castle is averaging a state-high 81.1 points per game under coach Brian Gibson, a 15-year veteran. The Knights are making their third semistate appearance, most recently losing to Pike in 2012 — also at Seymour. Ben Davis also lost its most-recent semistate appearance to Pike, although that was back in 1998. The Giants’ strength is on defense, allowing just 53.7 points per game and holding opponents to 39.8 percent shooting from the field. Aaron Henry, a 6-5 junior, is averaging a team-leading 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s joined by seniors Datrion Harper (11.5 ppg, 3.3 assists), Jalen Newsom (9.8 ppg, 49 percent 3-point shooter) and Josh Brewer (9.6 ppg, 4.7 rebounds) and sophomore Jalen Windham (7.3 ppg, 43 percent 3-point shooter) to form a veteran core. Coach Mark James is in his sixth year at Ben Davis and 35th overall looking for his first state title.
Crispus Attucks (23-4) vs. Evansville Bosse (20-7), 1 p.m.
Outlook: This one ought to be fun. Attucks is ranked third in the state in points per game (79.1) and Bosse (78.9) is fourth. Bosse played a slightly tougher schedule, though Attucks is also battle-tested, claiming Manual and Tri-West among its victims during its tournament run. Bosse has the experience advantage, playing in the state finals a year ago (falling 73-68 to Marion). Shane Burkhart, in his ninth year at Bosse, has another strong group led by 5-8 junior Mekhi Lairy (22.7 ppg, 8.2 assists, 5.7 rebounds). Lairy had 40 points in an 81-71 overtime win over Brownstown Central in last week’s regional semifinal and followed it with a 35-point night in a 94-66 win over Pike Central in the regional final. Bosse also relies on 6-foot junior Jaylen Chinn (12.8 ppg), 6-5 senior Javien Langley (11.5 ppg, 8.2 rebounds), 6-3 senior Jaidon Hunter (8.9 ppg) and 6-4 senior Nicely Tsianguebeni (6.8 ppg, 7.3 rebounds). The Bulldogs are 11-0 this season against 3A opponents. Attucks will be at a size disadvantage, but has plenty of firepower of its own. The Tigers are led by 6-3 senior Nike Sibande (22.6 ppg, 7.3 rebounds), 6-1 senior Teyon Scanlan (12.3 ppg, 3.2 rebounds), 5-11 senior Alex Cooley (11.7 ppg, 2.3 assists), 5-11 senior Zac Owens (11.1 ppg, 3.6 assists) and 6-foot junior Jamal Harris (8.7 ppg, 4.0 rebounds). Attucks would be one of the biggest stories around with a win. The program hasn’t been to the state finals since 1959, when it won the last of three titles in the 1950s.
Heritage Christian (19-7) vs. Crawford County (21-6), 6 p.m.
Outlook: Crawford County will no doubt have the advantage in crowd size on Saturday. The Wolfpack avenged regular-season losses to Clarksville (41-38) and Providence (33-32) in the sectional and bounced Forest Park (42-38) and South Knox (48-32) last week to clinch the program’s first regional championship since the single-class era of 1995. Expect the game to be played in the 40s. Crawford County is allowing just a shade over 44 points a game and Heritage Christian allows 47.5. The Wolfpack are led in scoring by 6-3 senior Adam Beasley (10.3 ppg), 6-3 senior Brent Smith (8.1 ppg) and 6-4 senior Josh Thomas (7.8 ppg). After a four-win season last year, Heritage Christian continued its dramatic turnaround with impressive wins over Shenandoah (58-45) and Northeastern (65-50) in last week’s regional. The Eagles, looking for their first state finals appearance, are led by 6-2 junior Zach Meus (15.6 ppg, 6.3 rebounds), 5-10 sophomore Andrew Williams (10.9 ppg, 5.0 assists) and 6-6 senior Hayden Wynja (10.2 ppg, 5.6 rebounds).
Other semistate games
Merrillville (21-7) vs. Fort Wayne North Side (26-2), 6 p.m.
Twin Lakes (24-3) vs. Fort Wayne Luers (19-7), 4 p.m.
Michigan City Marquette (19-9) vs. Frankton (21-6), 3 p.m.
Gary 21st Century (19-8) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (21-6), 1 p.m.