When the new year begins, it's time to get serious about high school basketball. The girls will open sectionals in less than a month and the boys are less than six weeks away. While one of Indianapolis' greatest classes in terms of talent graduated last year, there have been plenty of surprises to fill the gap.
The Indianapolis Star high school sports crew of writers Mark Ambrogi and Kyle Neddenriep and assistant sports editor Nat Newell take a look at what's happened and what's ahead:
Question: What teams and players have been the biggest surprises this season?
Neddenriep: I think the conversation has to start with the Perry Meridian boys. Coach Brent Keck has done a great job with that program in his third season, improving to 7-3 (before Saturday) after a 3-18 record last year. Honorable mention goes to Speedway (9-0; 9-14 in 2011-12), Danville (9-2 before Saturday; 11-12) and Decatur Central (6-3; 6-14).
As for surprise players, I like Decatur Central's Anthony Johnson (28.1 ppg average through seven games), Pike's Taishaun Johnson (19.8 ppg, 4.6 assists) and Roncalli's Michael Clements (23.4 ppg, 11.1 rebounds). Also, did anyone expect Eron Gordon (21.3 ppg) to play so well in his first nine varsity games?
Ambrogi: Hard to argue that Perry Meridian more than doubling its victories isn't the most surprising, but Speedway's unbeaten start is close. Led by Johnson and University transfer Jordan Pickett, it's a bit of a surprise Pike is unbeaten against a tough schedule (North Central, Ben Davis and Warren Central). Again the Red Devils are getting it done without much size. The same can be said of Carmel, which lost its two post players from last season's state title team. The Greyhounds are helped by Zach McRoberts' continual development.
Newell: I'll take the Lawrence North boys. The whispers that long-time coach Jack Keefer might be losing his touch after three seasons that saw the Wildcats' record dip from 16-8 to 11-11 to 8-12 have stopped with a 7-1 start. On the girls' side, Cardinal Ritter (10-2) and Southport (7-4) have equaled their victory totals from last season, Franklin Central is 9-3 after going 10-11 in Brian Hacker's first season, and Mooresville (11-3) continues to be potent despite losing a lot of talent over the past two seasons.
Q: If you had to vote today, who is the Indianapolis Star Indiana Mr. Basketball? Miss Basketball?
Neddenriep: Too early to call it, but I'll take Hamilton Southeastern's Zak Irvin for Mr. Basketball at this minute. We knew he could score (25.7 ppg), but his team is 9-1 and he's rebounding at a high level (9.6 per game). I still think Mishawaka Marian's Demetrius Jackson, Warren Central's Devin Davis and Fort Wayne Northrop's Bryson Scott have a shot. On the girls side, I'll give Brownsburg's Stephanie Mavunga a slight edge over HSE's Taya Reimer.
Ambrogi: I would go with Irvin right now too, which would make HSE the first school to have back-to-back Mr. Basketball winners (Gary Harris won last year). Jackson will be hurt by his team's struggles but Scott will likely be a factor in the race. Right now, Mavunga has the better numbers. But I think HSE will have a deeper playoff run, making Reimer the favorite. Reimer and Irvin could become the first players to win the Mr. and Miss Basketball titles from the same school in the same year.
Newell: I'd love to disagree, but Irvin and Reimer are the choices today. V.J. Beachem of New Haven should be included in the mix on the boys side.
Q: Still early, of course, but who is your starting lineup for the boys Indiana All-Stars?
Neddenriep: Jackson, Scott, Irvin, Cathedral's Collin Hartman and Davis. That lineup is a bit small, but the All-Star games are up-and-down anyway.
Ambrogi: In addition to Irvin and Jackson (Notre Dame) and Scott (Purdue), I can see Davis (Indiana) and Lawrence North Basil Smotherman (Purdue) in the final two spots. Hartman will also contend for considerable playing time since he should be fully recovered from the wrist injury which currently sidelines him. Beachem (Notre Dame) is another candidate to start. The squad's only weakness is a lack of strong candidates at the power forward and center spots.
Q: Who do you have winning the boys titles? The girls titles?
Neddenriep: I'll take Barr-Reeve (A), Park Tudor (2A) and Evansville Bosse (3A) on the boys' side. Class 4A is tough. I might give the edge to Tech, but that Sectional 10 field is loaded. There are probably 10-12 teams in 4A with a legitimate chance to win state.
On the girls' side, I'll take Columbus North (4A), Hamilton Heights (3A), Evansville Mater Dei (2A) and Fort Wayne Canterbury (A).
Ambrogi: I'll go with Loogootee in Class A. In Class 2A, I like Trevon Bluiett to lead Park Tudor to a third consecutive state title and Guerin Catholic to repeat in 3A. Agree with Kyle that 4A again is wide open -- Pike, Ben Davis, Tech, Hamilton Southeastern, Carmel and Fort Wayne Northrop. If Hartman is healthy, Cathedral could make a deep run. Since we're taking a wild stab, I'll take North Central, led by Gordon and Darius Latham.
For the girls, I'll give a slight nod to Columbus North over HSE in 4A and Norwell in 3A. In 2A, I'll take a young Heritage Christian team over Evansville Mater Dei and Fort Wayne Canterbury in Class A.
Newell: "I might" . . . "wild stab" . . . come on fellas, have some conviction. Give me Barr-Reeve (A), Gary Bowman to upset Park Tudor (2A) and Evansville Bosse (3A) surviving a scare from Mt. Vernon. I'll take a healthy Cathedral team in 4A.
For the girls, Columbus North (4A) has some narrow victories, but it's hard to argue with the resume. I'll take Benton Central in 3A, Evansville Mater Dei in 2A and make it unanimous with Fort Wayne Canterbury in Class A.