June is a month where you can learn a lot about high school basketball. Some questions, like where players will be come August, or even November, aren’t necessarily answered. But when you have a team with all their pieces back, June goes a long way in renewing hope or crushing spirits.
Judging by my correspondence with Snider coach Jeremy Rauch after this past weekend’s Charlie Hughes Shootout in Indianapolis, the Panthers line up more with the former.
“Really encouraging. Played exceptionally hard and well together,” Rauch told me on Sunday after the Panthers went 4-0 during the June finale.
The Panthers were one of just 10 teams in the field of 106 teams to go unbeaten on the weekend. The performances were an exclamation point on Snider’s month. They beat good competition, junior Michael Eley earned another Division I offer (this time to Evansville) and the Panthers put the Fort Wayne area back on notice. That’s not new though for those who have been paying attention in June; Snider had been performing at a solid level all month.
But let me be clear: I am not anointing the Panthers again. Not yet.
I won’t go as far as to say that I made a mistake by doing so going into the 2018-19 season but let’s get real: they didn’t live up to the hype. And it was OUR hype. We all did it. They were going to be world beaters all the way up until they weren’t. Once they lost to Homestead in the SAC Holiday Tournament finals, the mystique of Snider was stripped clean. So I know that I’m getting a few eye rolls right now in telling you how good they were in the month of June.
So roll them. Who isn’t rolling their eyes? The likes of Wayne, South Side, North Side, Leo, New Albany, Heritage Hills, Bedford North Lawrence and Scottsburg. Because Snider flexed their muscles through all of those games. The only team who really bested them through the Charlie Hughes or the Panthers’ own fun day Monday league was Churubusco, but then the Panthers were severely shorthanded.
They’ve played without a full roster of returnees all month. Cleevas Craig has fought off injuries, Airyan Thomas has been out all summer injured, Jayshawn Underwood hasn’t been with the team because of football commitments, Isaac Farnsworth missed time because of trampoline related health issues, Jermaine Woods has been absent at times and Dillon Duff, Jon Barnes and Michael Eley have all missed time with football related conflicts. It is the heart of the summer and it’s hard for any team to be complete all of the time. But it has only strengthened the program that has to be near the top of everyone’s radar again. June can be a good month for that.
And Rauch and Snider have to be happy because of how everyone has stepped in and stepped up. Guys like Elijah Wimby, Grant Brown and Aidan Lambert have found roles with the Panther core. Jordan Moore has gotten more reps as a point guard valuable to Snider’s depth and Karson Jenkins’ comfort shooting the ball is becoming more clear when he isn’t throwing up all over the court. What that means come November, none of us truly know. What it means as June came to a close: everything. Snider ended their season this spring as a disappointment with an earlier than planned Sectional exit. To build off that ending in the winter would be hard. To build off June though? Sounds far more feasible.
And I would be lost in my Panther analysis if I didn’t discuss how strong Farnsworth’s game has gotten. He was a guy deserving borderline minutes when his junior season started. Less than a year later, he has become the third man in Snider’s big three with Duff and Eley as a high energy guy who can play almost any position on the court excuse of his intensity. And his offense has gone to all new levels because of the will that he carries with him, improving leaps and bounds even from when I had last seen him in defeat at DeKalb this spring. Combining him with the duo of Duff and Eley, arguably two of the top 10 players in this area, reaffirms the Snider threat.
Again, that doesn’t mean we anoint them. It means we repeak our interest.
Something else that needs to be taken into consideration for an extra edge to the Panthers: the inclusion of Duff and Eley on the gridiron. And if you know anything about Snider football at all, it is their anticipation of excellence. Snider football doesn’t care who you are, what you are; Snider football expects you to excel and it always has. That has done wonders on the court through the leadership of Barnes and Underwood. When you toss in your two best basketball players, it is only going to raise the level on the hardwood. To say that has not contributed to Snider’s elevated June would be taking the impact of Snider football for granted. And I’m not that ignorant.
June has now come and gone. I saw a lot of teams, a lot of players and processed a lot of successful moments. But as we head towards football season, I’m leaving you with this: Snider has righted their ship some and now these kids have Rauch and his coaching staff meddling in the same place as football coach Kurt Tippmann: anticipating excellence.
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