The Homestead Spartans have a lot of fun together. That, alone, doesn’t make a high school basketball team successful. But it certainly doesn’t hurt. Coming off a season where they shared the Summit Athletic Conference title and won the SAC Holiday Tournament, the Spartans are firmly anointed as an SAC power, if not THE SAC power.
“The expectations coming into this year are high. I guess there is no way around it when you have three starters back with a lot of playing time and you were successful the year before,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said. “People are expecting bigger and better things. We don’t mind the target on our back. We beefed up our schedule playing three Indianapolis teams to kind of see where we stand. We want to be able to be playing at the end of March.”
One of the the Spartans’ seniors, Zak Krueger is back after being named an Indiana Junior All-Star last season, the only such honoree in Fort Wayne. Krueger really was one of the area’s biggest break out stars indicating a high talent level and the patience to run the Spartan offense. His 13.2 point points per game were second on the team and he led the Spartans with 3.9 assists per game.
Fellow senior Alec Grinsfelder is a formidable force on the interior and his 4.8 rebounds per game was second on the team last season. Grinsfelder plays unselfish basketball and has been the critical “intangible” guy for the Spartans, doing a little bit of everything. Jake Archbold returns for his senior season to be a big perimeter defender after not playing last season. Patrick Raudenbush is another senior who could contribute.
“Jake brings that toughness, he brings that defensive mentality,” Johnson said. “Defense comes first that is what we are trying to find, those kids who want to sit down and play hard defensively. To have him back, we are excited to have him be a part of it and we will see where that goes.”
Junior Luke Goode is one of the best players in his class in all of Indiana. The two sport star is headed for a future on the Division I level and really increased his all around play this summer with Spiece Indy Heat. Goode picked up pace on expanding his game over the last year and is now an inside-out creator that can score on all three levels. Even so, just on the surface, the team’s leading scorer (14.9 ppg) is a deadeye shooter.
The junior class also include combo Preston Barker, who showed signs of being a rim protector in a limited role at Snider last season. Quinn Harmon will see some time, as will Grant Simmons, who was the leading scorer for the junior varsity team a year ago. Simmons, about 6-foot-4, meets Homestead’s inside-out philosophy on offense because he can score at the rim and shoot the ball well too.
A pair of sophomores may see some time also, depending on their development. Ifeanyi Ezeakudo may be pegged as the point guard of the future but likely splits between the junior varsity and varsity levels. 6-foot-5 Andrew Leeper has had a lot of attention since middle school and is a quality ball player, but is coming off a summer where his play was limited due to an injury.
“Three of our top players are back, we just have to find the pieces to surround them. We have to find numbers 7 and 8 and see who wants to separate themselves from the batch to get some minutes,” Johnson said. “Talk is cheap, it is easy to sit here and say how good somebody is going to be, but you are going to have to practice each day and earn your minutes, be able to figure out what our weaknesses are and become the best team you can possibly be. We will see where those chips fall.”
When it comes to putting it all together when the Spartans open their season with a traditional Thanksgiving Eve game opposite Huntington North, Johnson thinks the team could thrive this season with their length.
“Defensively, we are long. We have a lot of length but we have a lot of energy as far as on the defensive end, which is exciting there,” Johnson said. “I think the offense eventually will click and it still comes down to having an inside-out game. I just feel like with our length, we are going to be able to get some mismatches hopefully inside and especially the way we can shoot the basketball.”
Homestead is always a success story. Even when they don’t win a title (rare), they are one of the few programs that you know can beat you every single year. A lot of that credit has to go to the organization that Chris Johnson has built. Homestead is a well oiled machine in almost everything they do.
When you factor in that they have arguably their best group of returners in recent memory, there is no reason for them to not be the favorites.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
They don’t get higher ranked than #1. They don’t get higher ranked than Homestead.
DEC. 14 VERSUS NEW HAVEN
So why would a non conference game make the cut as a crucial one for the Spartans? This game comes at a crucial time against the frontrunner in the Northeast 8. Five games in, this is sandwiched between two conference games and right before the Holiday Tournament. This folks, is what we call a trap game. The Bulldogs will have a lot to prove and the Spartans won’t want to get this game lost in the shuffle.
We think Homestead will be really good, hence the top ranking, but by this point we will KNOW what the Spartans will truly be.
PRESTON BARKER, JUNIOR
Coming back to the Spartan program after a year at Snider, Barker’s game has transformed quite a bit since he was last on a high school court. He is a tough rebounder and his size and skill set are tough to match up against when you want to stop both. Barker is capable enough on the perimeter, gets to the basket physically and heavy.
Homestead almost always has some breakout guys with their depth that can score when they need to and pressure the ball defensively to create instant offense. Barker could be that guy this season.