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. 35-31.
No. 35 – Joel Knox, Angola
Knox has been a true workhorse for the Hornets and found a comfort zone last year as a leader for a program that had its fair share of turmoil. With a midseason switch in head coach, the Hornets needed leadership on the court and Knox stayed a steady hand in that process. He averaged 12 points per game and will be the leading returning scorer. Prior to last season, Knox had to play more roles than he did in 2019-20 but he settled in last season. Now, he is going to have to come back and be more versatile again as the Hornets transition to their third coach in two seasons.
How does this move benefit Knox? He is going to fit perfectly into a Brandon Appleton system, at least as we know it from the girls side. Knox will play smothering defense and then turn around and get out on the break, fill his lane and finish when the ball gets put in his hands. Look for Knox to lead this group, not just because of his experience and shot selection, but because he just works hard.
COACH’S QUOTE ON JOEL KNOX
“Joel is an extremely physical guard who has incredible toughness. He has had to play all positions giving him a versatility that I really like, he can handle it well and is working on improving his consistency shooting the basketball.” – Angola coach Brandon Appleton
No. 34 – Drew Litwiller, Westview
The always strong program is now in the hands of Litwiller, who has become the face of a program that is always expected to flourish. Litwiller is a guy who naturally is a perimeter player and played pace setter most of the time last season. He is a quality facilitator and that has been his job in the last two seasons as the sixth and second option respectively in those seasons. Now he is option one and while he is still important to spread the ball around with so many returners, Litwiller’s 9.4 point per game average will rise. And he is fully capable. Litwiller can shoot the ball well from three levels and his ability to get to the rim is strong.
This is where Litwiller can play many of the same roles that Charlie Yoder did last season for Westview. While Litwiller isn’t Yoder – and few play on that high level – he still has similar attributes. He is really good at the rim, both creating and rebounding. While Westview goes through a feeling out process with a new coach and without arguably the best player in program history, Litwiller is going to make sure that the Warriors get more than their fair share of chances to score. He averaged 4.8 rebounds per game and his work on the offensive boards has always been strong.
No. 33 – Sam Strycker, Carroll
If someone told you that Sam Strycker was second team all-conference last season and you gave him a long, hard look, you’d probably think it was All-SAC at linebacker. His is an intimidating physical presence and has really started to cultivate his game to match his appearance. As the Chargers came so close to a conference title and won the SAC Holiday Tournament last season, Strycker’s physicality and work on the glass was crucial. He was one of the very best players overall in the aforementioned holiday tournament with his work rebounding the ball being crucial in both semi final and final game victories.
A hallmark of Strycker’s game, if you haven’t noticed yet, is his rebounding where he averaged 5.7 per game last season. It isn’t just that he rebounds well, many people do that. What Strycker does that is often lost in players in 2020 is that he is going to box out on every single play. If you are the player closest to him, he’s going to put his body into you and earn the positioning worthy of snagging that rebound. Strycker also averaged 9.3 points per game in 2019-20 and is one of three returning Chargers who averaged more than two and half assists per game with 2.6 of his own.
COACH’S QUOTE ON SAM STRYCKER
“Sam is so strong and athletic for his size. He will be more of a perimeter player this year to help stretch the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He will be counted on to be a leader.” – Carroll coach Marty Beasley
No. 32 – Nick Thompson, Bishop Luers
There aren’t many in the SAC that are as high level, natural athletes as the younger of the Thompson brothers are. Thompson is just very smooth in his physicality, two things that usually do not go so much hand in hand. But Thompson is clearly different. He runs the floor like a gazelle and is never afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to stopping opposing players at the rim; there are no easy buckets when Nick Thompson is in pursuit.
Offensively, Thompson averaged 5.9 points per game last season. His best work is in and around the rim. He shot 51 percent from inside the arc and 65 percent at the free throw line. His workman approach is going to be a critical part in Bishop Luers’ ever changing identity. Thompson is a strong player that really uses wide shoulders to muscle around smaller wing defenders. It helps create room for his shot and rim attack.
COACH’S QUOTE ON NICK THOMPSON
“Nick has the opportunity to be a very special player in our program. His confidence and his business-like approach will be imperative to our success.” – Bishop Luers coach Fonso White
No. 31 – Brady Bontrager, Lakeland
Lakeland not being in the heavy NECC title race full of top tier area talent last season saw Bontrager not get as much attention as some of his conference foes. But at 19.5 points per game, Bontrager was one of the very best scorers in the area, let alone the NECC. He was the 7th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points last season and he plays very confidently within the Lakeland system. Don’t expect that to change under a new coach that knows the program well. What will have to continue to improve, as it did throughout 2019-20, is his ability to create and finish through all kinds of junk defenses. The secret is out: the best way to slow or stop Lakeland is by slowing Bontrager, so he just can’t let teams do that.
Bontrager does hold a pretty high aptitude as well in getting teammates involved and that will never be more important than in past seasons as he will have a major target on his back. His ability to shoot the ball from pretty much anywhere on the floor helps that. He is going to be able to space out the Lakeland offense, allowing plenty of room for the entire team to create. As teams swarm him and his deadly shooting, he can find the open man. If teams cheat too much on guys at the rim, then Bontrager will make them pay with a smooth looking shot.
COACH’S QUOTE ON BRADY BONTRAGER
“Could be one of the better players in the area this year if healthy. He’s coming off a sprained ankle in football. Our goal is to get him easier shots this year around the basket. Not many in this part of the state can shoot it like he does, so the sky is the limit if he continues to work hard and embrace his role!” – Lakeland coach Chris Keil
PREVIOUSLY IN THE COUNTDOWN