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. 40-36.
No. 40 – Connor Penrod, DeKalb
2019-20 was really a breakout year for Penrod and he is likely to be the star of the interior in the Northeast 8 this season; it is going to be a packed year in the NE8 post. Penrod is a relentless worker who almost always boasts a high field goal percentage because his length is very tough to defend, even for the bigger and more physical players in the conference. His 9-of-12 shooting against conference champion Norwell last season NEARLY beat the Knights. Once Penrod got comfortable using his length last season and really started to understand the use of his tall body, he was on the road to success.
He will be just a junior as he looks to improve on 14 point and six rebound per game averages. Watch for Penrod’s footwork to be critical as he expands his game outward to work form 15 feet in. If his first step continues to be long and gets quicker, how do you defend a player of his ability? He creates his own space as good as any post in the conference and could be due for an even more breakout 2020-21.
COACH’S QUOTE ON CONNOR PENROD
“Connor has a relentless work ethic and a tireless desire to always improve. Without a doubt, he is one of the best bigs in the area and can dominate a game both offensively and defensively. Connor is very difficult to stop once he gets the ball in the post and has developed the ability to finish with his right or left hand. This off-season he has expanded his offensive range allowing him to play both inside and outside. Looking forward to Connor having a great season.” – DeKalb coach Rod Cone
No. 39 – Callan Wood, Blackhawk Christian
Lose key players from a state championship team and you’ll need new guys to step in to keep you in the champion conversation. Not only did Callan Wood help keep the Braves relevant during his first varsity season in 2019-20, he was a consistent lynchpin in the Braves run that looked like it was going to end with a Class 2A state title. Wood came in a workhorse and was there to do a wide variety of intangible things that helped fuel the familiar horses that the Braves put on the court.
Wood averaged a team fourth best 7.2 points per game and was consistently an underrated threat for the Braves. While teams key’d in on the “big three,” Wood got his fair share of opportunities and he took advantage. He heads into his senior season no longer as THE fourth option, but as a top four option and those two things are very different. He is going to be key’d on a lot more himself but his high ability to convert works in his favor. Last season, Wood hit 43 percent from long range and converted 78 percent from the free throw line.
COACH’S QUOTE ON CALLAN WOOD
“Callan has been extremely dedicated to improving his overall game, especially this off season. We will continue to look to Cal for hard-nosed defense, and the ability to knock down open shots.” – Blackhawk Christian coach Marc Davidson
No. 38 – Xavier Nolan, Bishop Dwenger
Like many guys in an undersized Saints lineup through 2019-20, Nolan was able to play a variety of roles out of need. Among those was his ability and desire to battle in the paint for rebounds and second shot opportunities for he or a teammate. He averaged a team best five rebounds per game and it is great to have a workhorse like that in your system that you can rely on even if he won’t have to play that role as consistently this season. What they will continue to rely on is Nolan’s ability to lead by example and insert Dwenger’s traditional strengths into the game.
In a traditional Bishop Dwenger half court set up, his dribble drive attack can break down the defense well in both directions. Nolan is one who, more often than not, makes very smart decisions with the ball whether he is attacking or being more passive – and he isn’t passive often. He has good vision to find the proper pass when defenses collapse on him and good post entry passes when available. When he does get to the rim, his ability to finish is high and he averaged nine points a game in 2019-20.
COACH’S QUOTE ON XAVIER NOLAN
“Xavier was probably our most consistent player last year. He’s a physical player who uses his body well in driving to the basket. He shot over 100 free throws last year. His shooting and ball handling have improved since last year. He played both guard spots last year and will continue to do that this season. Defensively, he has the ability to guard multiple positions. He is becoming more of a vocal leader for us! He was 2nd team All-SAC last season. Also a great baseball player!” – Bishop Dwenger coach Matt Kostoff
No. 37 – Ashton Johnson, South Side
It seems to be a trend more often than not in this area of the player countdown: guys who have become strong at playing in multiple areas on the floor out of necessity. Count Johnson in that group, which makes sense when you consider his bloodline. As a freshman, there were a lot of times that the Archers used his size and aggression in the post. Last season, after Austin Jordan’s injury, not only did Johnson’s usage rate go up, the ball was often in his hands to distribute to South Side playmakers. Now, he he will have to be THE South Side playmaker.
Johnson has worked hard this summer and while that is not the main marker for our countdown, it is an important fact that Johnson has worked to transform his body and be crisper for the rigors of the varsity game. It makes sense, he is going to be expected to play more than 25 minutes every single night. He led the Archers with 4.3 assists per game and will be the (kind of) leading returning scorer at 10.3 points per game. The Archers know now that they can trust in Johnson to play a lead guard role and make decisions. He is a capable shooter even if he doesn’t go that way much, but did have a 4-of-7 game from deep against Lawrence North. He was the only Archer to have double digit games in scoring, rebounding and assists; he dished out 10 assists on two different occasions in 2019-20.
COACH’S QUOTE ON ASHTON JOHNSON
“A five tool player that has committed himself in the off season. Ashton has had two years to adjust to varsity level competition; he is ready to live up to the potential that he displayed coming out of middle school.” – South Side JJ Foster
No. 36 – Greg Bolt, Columbia City
There may be no quarterback position on the basketball court, but Bolt is essentially going to be tasked with being one. New coach, new gym and new mentality for Columbia City basketball means that Bolt is going to need to find ways to really change games. Defensively, Bolt has a reputation of being disruptive at the rim and that is something the Eagles will need in a bigger NE8 with competitive post play expected almost every night. Bolt really picks up his physicality when challenged at the rim.
It cannot be underplayed how much having a guy with a winning mindset leading the way is. Bolt had a strong season on the gridiron and that mentality is transferable. He will bring back a returning best 7.3 points and 6.5 rebounds and even chipped in 1.1 assists per game last season. Why is that assist number such an asset? Teams will collapse more on Bolt this season when he makes his strong cuts in the post and he will need to keep his head on a swivel and dish out to the Eagle shooters. When he doesn’t need to dish out, his always softening touch and extended range will be appreciated.
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