LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The pregame introductions are droning on, and Carmel senior Karsten Windlan can’t wait. He’s standing on the court Saturday at Lafayette Jeff, site of the Class 4A semistate between Carmel and Penn, and he’s winding his hand in circles as he says two words, over and over:
“Let’s go,” he’s saying. “Let’s go.”
The game will begin soon enough — and it will be over almost as fast, with Carmel (Ind.) jumping Penn (Mishawaka, Ind.) to a double-digit lead in the first quarter and coasting to a 71-42 victory that propels the No. 1 Greyhounds into the Class 4A title game next weekend at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But when this semistate game starts, this happens: Carmel teammate John-Michael Mulloy wins the opening tap, Windlan is bringing the ball up the court, and he’s smiling as he crosses midcourt. He can’t help himself, and it doesn’t matter that he barely slept Friday night. Something happened, he’s not sure what, but he awoke every hour to rush into the bathroom and vomit.
This is not what Mulloy means when he tells me, as he holds the semistate trophy, that “Karsten brings the nasty.”
Mulloy was talking about how Windlan played the game Saturday, how he plays every game, with a competitiveness, with an edge, that goes right up to the line and … occasionally spills over, ever so slightly.
It spilled over, ever so slightly, in the fourth quarter Saturday when Carmel freshman Pete Suder was shooting free throws at one end and a kid in the Penn student section was talking trash to Windlan at the other. Windlan responds by approaching the bleachers, and starts giving it back. Mulloy is watching Suder shoot when he catches sight of Windlan, so he walks to the far end of the court and steers Windlan toward the court with a directive:
“Lock in,” Mulloy tells Windlan. “We’re going to Bankers Life.”
And there goes Windlan, smiling that smile again.
Mulloy is headed to Butler and Andrew Owens is off to Findlay, and another senior, Luke Heady, is the brilliant point guard who plays exactly like what he is: the son, and the grandson, of former coaches at Carmel.
Carmel, No. 18 in the Super 25, returned all those nice pieces from an exceptional team a year ago, one that reached the 4A title game, but something was missing. Something it’s hard to quantify, so allow me to bring back John-Michael Mulloy one more time.
“Karsten brings the nasty,” Mulloy says.
Yes, he does. In the best of ways, by and large. A year ago, though, Carmel coach Ryan Osborn wasn’t playing Windlan much. Yes, Carmel had a core of seniors ahead of him, but there was more to it. How to say this? Oh, I know:
“Karsten brings the nasty,” Mulloy says.
Exactly. Yes. Windlan showed up at Carmel around Thanksgiving of his junior season as a transfer from Pendleton Heights, where he had averaged 12 points per game. He wanted to spend more time with his father, Tod, then the girls basketball coach at Carmel. But also he wanted to compete for a state title.
So he showed up about 18 months ago with that style of his: attacking the rim and launching jumpers and gambling on defense and playing with a flamboyance that, frankly, doesn’t square with the Carmel way.
Windlan didn’t play much as a junior, averaging barely 5 ppg and getting just a few minutes on the court in the state title game against Warren Central, going scoreless.
“Coach couldn’t trust me enough to play,” Windlan says of his junior season, “but that’s all right because he’s a great coach, and last year I felt I wasn’t ready to play on that stage. I had to adapt to what Carmel really is, and I bought in over the offseason.”
And the payoff has been huge. Windlan is Carmel’s No. 2 scorer at 11.8 ppg, getting his points as a solid shooter (47 percent from the floor, 30 percent on 3-pointers) and an exceptional athlete. He’s listed at 5-11 but soared way above the rim Saturday for an attempted tip-jam that would have been spectacular had the ball not caromed in the wrong direction, and he exploded into the lane several times to finish at the rim, including the time he split four Penn defenders — two near the foul line, two more at the basket — for the bucket.
Windlan scored 14 points Saturday, just behind Mulloy (16), Owens (15) and Suder (15), and had a team-high five rebounds, and he did it despite playing just 21 minutes. Because Osborn kept inviting him back to the bench for a few minutes at a time.
“To cool and settle,” Osborn was telling me. “He can be too aggressive offensively at times, but you can’t take away his competitiveness. Karsten is such competitor, and does some unbelievable things on both ends of the floor, and sometimes that can be a negative, too, because he’s so emotional, so intense. So what he’s learned over the years is: We take him out, give him time to cool and settle, and he goes right back in and everything’s OK.
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“I give him credit. He came here not understanding what the culture of Carmel basketball is about. He knew he was a talented player, a really good player, and to break that mold can be difficult. There were ups and downs last year, but throughout this year he’s done nothing but improve. He’s a joy to be around.”
The bigger the game, the better Windlan plays. He scored 19 in a win earlier this season against Warren Central, then ran through the halls shouting triumphantly: “MIC champs!” He scored a game-high 18 in a victory against Ben Davis, had 10 in Carmel’s sectional title victory against HSE, then led the team in scoring in both games at regional: 19 against Fort Wayne Northrop in the first game, then 18 in the final against Zionsville.
Then came Saturday, when he was outscoring Penn by himself at halftime, 9-8 — Carmel led 28-8 — and finishing with 14 and then, when the game was over and Carmel fans were rushing the court, Windlan was making a beeline for two small kids in oversized Carmel jerseys. Just to offer them a fist to bump, and to tell them the same four words he told Mulloy and Owens and every other teammate he saw in the postgame pandemonium:
“One more to go,” he kept saying. “One more to go.”