Outside the Huddle and Bounce are counting down who it feels are the top 50 individual boys basketball players in northeast Indiana heading into the 2020-21 season.
Today, we unveil five of the best in the area at positions No. 50-46.
No. 50 – Chris Hood, East Noble
Don’t say we didn’t warn you, but don’t expect Hood to be sitting here at No. 50 by the end of his junior season.
To watch Hood (as I did) to start last season against Snider and then again (as I did) against NE8 champion Norwell was like night and day. His progression was immense as he got more comfortable with his physicality and the nature of his game.
Hood averaged 8.2 points and 7.3 rebounds while not backing down from any of the players he stood across the court from, no matter their stature or status. Once Hood realized he could bring some of his football aggression to the basketball court, he really started to shine.
Hood’s soft touch around the rim led to 55 percent shooting. That touch has just gotten better because Hood learned towards the end of last season and over the summer when to be forceful around the rim and when to be laid back. His footwork and speed at rim protection will be a major asset to an East Noble team that is working its way back up the Northeast 8 ladder.
If Hood can stay in the game and out of foul trouble against a pretty large NE8, he will have the Knights rolling.
COACH’S QUOTE ON CHRIS HOOD
“Chris tremendously improved over the course of last season. His progress took him from a role player to earning All-Conference HM NE8 by season’s end. His progress this past spring and summer has helped him improve his quickness and conditioning, as seen on the Football field this fall. He has good feet and uses his hands well which keeps him out of foul trouble and on the floor. If he can take a step forward this season in defending away from the basket, he will be one of the more dominant post players in the area. Best of all, he is fun to be around and keeps his teammates laughing!” – East Noble coach Ryan Eakins
No. 49 – Eli Riley, Norwell
Riley has major shoes to fill, but a winning pedigree from the defending NE8 and sectional champion Knights will help.
Between his 2019-20 basketball season and his 2020 football campaign as the Norwell quarterback, Riley has lost just four games. The kid flat out knows how to win. Focus and responsibility will shift to Riley on the basketball court now, but his fall is a good building block for that. Riley averaged 7.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and two assists per game in 2019-20.
Riley entered the Norwell lineup as one of those kids labeled as “a shooter,” and has worked tirelessly since then to eliminate that label. After all, Riley is not just a shooter. He will be an important pace setter for the Knights as they need a new lead guard.
How Riley can “quarterback” his basketball team will be critical for Norwell’s success in a league in which it will be outsized often. It may not always show up on the stat sheet either, but Riley’s defense is a major hallmark of his game. His tireless pursuit of off-ball defense makes it difficult for teams to move the ball. And yes, he is still a shooter, adding to Norwell’s multiple options on the perimeter to open up games and draw out defenses.
COACH’S QUOTE ON ELI RILEY
“Eli is great competitor, and he a tremendous worker! We are exited to have him take on a bigger leadership role this year for our program. He is entering this season as a 3 year varsity player, and we are excited to watch him perform at a high level in his senior season.” – Norwell coach Mike McBride
No. 48 – Cole Richmond, DeKalb
Richmond has been a staple for the Barons program and will be required to continue to add to his roles into his senior season. His status as a second-year player in the Top 50 is important and his similar ranking is not a knock on him at all.
Richmond is just the model of consistency more often than not. He does what he does and he does it well. His perimeter play is strong as he shot 34 percent from three-point range and is absolutely one of the top pure shooters in the NE8. He reads the floor well, moves without the ball and can spot himself up in great locations to get his shot.
A strength of Richmond’s that has been seen probably more on the summer circuit with TPE than with DeKalb is how is ability to read the floor translates into a facilitator. Richmond plays at a solid level as a passer and can make things happen. If he can really step up in that regard, it is a major asset for DeKalb, which is replacing some facilitator roles. Richmond averaged three assists to go with 13 points per game a year ago.
COACH’S QUOTE ON COLE RICHMOND
“Cole is an outstanding player who has tremendous leadership skills. Offensively he has deep range and can beat the defense off the dribble. On Defense, he has developed into a solid on-ball defender who does an outstanding job communicating making his teammates better. Cole has worked hard in the off-season and continues to improve. I’m looking forward to him leading the team and having a great season.” – DeKalb coach Rod Cone
No. 47 – Drake Lewis, Whitko
Whitko really made more an impact on the area last season and Lewis was a key component in that. He really just does a lot of everything and fills in valiantly wherever the Wildcats need him. He can shoot, rebound and defend with the best in the Three Rivers Conference.
Lewis averaged 13 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 2019-20 against a strong concentration of TRC teams and some of the area’s more talented defensive squads.
Watching Lewis play as hard as he does was one of the highlights of Whitko a year ago. He doesn’t seem to have much of a second speed and just goes and goes and goes. That makes him a dribble drive threat offensively, causing defenses to collapse, which helped last year with the range of his teammates. Lewis is rangy with his length and it helps him get to the rim around defenses and makes him a bit of a matchup problem.
COACH’S QUOTE ON DRAKE LEWIS
“His ability to penetrate and create his own shot and for others makes him extremely valuable to our team. Drake is one of seven seniors that return this year and all are hungry for their senior season. Drake will be counted on each night to provide scoring as well as applying ball pressure on opposing guards. It is nice to have an experienced backcourt returning and we will rely heavily on Brett [Sickafoose] and Drake to lead our team this season.” – Whitko coach Chris Benedict
No. 46 – Luke McClure, Churubusco
‘Busco has a lot of moving pieces that can do a lot of intangible things. But McClure may be the heart and soul of that initiative. McClure throws himself at the game, into passing lanes and near every offensive player he can. In other words, Luke McClure creates chaos for opposing offenses.
He averaged 9.2 points and 2.6 steals per game in 2019-20 and was also second on the team in assists, but those numbers do no justice to his overall value. He had six steals against Fremont and eight against Prairie Heights, but one of his most impactful games came in a two-steal, regular season win over Central Noble. In that game, McClure’s pressure lead to many more steals for teammates than he got credit for and was a real shift in the flow of the game that really took the Cougars out of it. That win helped clinch a share of the NECC title.
Intangibles have been and what will be the things that keep McClure at the forefront of opponents minds. You can never take your eyes off him for long and you always have to game plan to have someone to try and outwork him. Keyword: try. 50/50 balls, pass deflections and shot-altering defense make McClure one of the area’s best at altering games by just flat out playing hard.
COACH’S QUOTE ON LUKE MCCLURE
“Luke is one of those players who i never want to take out. He is non stop on both ends, and plays as hard as anyone. He is also very physical, and competes at all times. Has started since his freshman year, and has had a tremendous career. Very underrated” – Churubusco coach Chris Paul
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