Instantly there are coaches, players and fans that want to throw their two cents back at the question posed in the headline of this column.
And bring it at me I say.
I’m not here to say, unequivocally, that New Haven senior Thomas Latham is the biggest matchup problem in our area. All of these things that we discuss are a matter of personal opinion. And I am not convinced in early January that this is a factual statement. It, for now, is merely a question because on Tuesday, Latham more than threw his race as the area’s biggest issue to defend and be defended by.
Latham torched Snider through the first half of their encounter and his timely makes and especially rebounds helped hold off furious Panther comeback attempts.
How do you guard a player like Latham when he does what he did on Tuesday against Snider? He scored at the rim, both creating his own shots and after gaining offense of rebounds, he hit the only three point shot that he took and most impressively to me, he dominated the mid range. Latham is quite literally a total package offensively – pun intended with the name of his AAU team Total Package Elite.
Snider gave him different looks, but like with most teams, it is difficult to decide if you were going to put one of your bigger more physical players on him to try to stop him inside or stick a guard with him to try to control what he can do when he floats out. None of it worked for very long and that is something that many teams are starting to see, even if he had a little slower start to the season and then he would’ve liked. The mid range play continues to impress me the most about Latham. It is a lost art in all of basketball and especially on the high school level. The best players, the most efficient players, the ones we hold at highest regard in this area, are the guys who are able to score in that middle range. Quite frankly, that isn’t many guys when you look at it. I love the mid range game, it opens up so much for a team when you have someone who is so effective in that area.
That could be said for New Haven on Tuesday night as they cushioned themselves, not only with lethal scoring but the scoring that was facilitated by the attention that had to be put on him. If it was Jakar Williams at the rim or Jackson Turnwald shooting at three, part of the credit has to go to what Latham does because he helps other people get good looks.
If scoring was all that he could do, he would still be a matchup problem. But what about when you switch away from there? New Haven showcased, especially in the first half, that they have a team full of really strong passers with good court vision. As teammates made terrific cuts and patrolled the baseline, no less than six Bulldogs made super crisp quality, intelligent and beautiful passes for easy buckets at the rim. Put Latham right in the middle of that. His court vision has improved greatly, something that was on showcase this summer quite a bit with TPE, as they saw different fluctuations in their lineup at various tournaments.
On Tuesday, Latham‘s rebounding was a real problem where the Panthers just couldn’t pin down how to stop him, again especially in the first half, where he tallied seven rebounds to go with his 18 first half points. It is almost a no-win situation for opponents of Latham; you could try to box him out, but his sturdy frame makes that nearly impossible. If you want to jump with him, good luck because he almost always skies above an opposing player to capture the rebound he wants.
On Tuesday and most nights, taking the ball out of his hands doesn’t change his value in the ability – or lack there of – to match up with him. He can guard at all three levels efficiently and, dare I say, as well as anyone we have in the senior class in the area right now.
I don’t mean for this to turn into some love fest, but it all pays to the question that we asked to start this column, is Latham the biggest matchup problem in the area and especially in the Northeast 8 Conference where the biggest and baddest conference games are still yet to come?
There is always an appreciation from me for players who put in that hefty effort.
When I first saw Latham this season, he struggled mightily against Blackhawk Christian. To be fair, everyone on his team did as they got beat by 50-plus points and he accounted for a co-team high with just just six points. To be more fair, everyone that Blackhawk Christian has seen in this area has struggled against them.
So it wouldn’t be too hard to turn around from that effort. But Latham has made it very clear he will go above and beyond and that no matter what happens in the Northeast 8 Conference race or in defending a New Haven Sectional title, he is certainly not going to let his senior year go through with whimper.
After his massive effort on Tuesday night, where he scored 34 points, had 14 rebounds and five assists against Snider, Latham has had one of the best back to back performances in Northeast Indiana this season. It his last two games now, while shooting 69% from the field – yes that’s right, 69%, making almost 7 out of every 10 shots – he has totals 54 points, 30 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots. He has scored 13 or more points in each of his last seven outings and Tuesday nights point total of 34. – 18 in the first half and 16 in the second half – was a career high.
That indicates to me that we don’t even know how high Latham’s high school ceiling is yet, let along what he will do down the road at the University of Saint Francis.
The Bulldogs will suit up three more times in the next week and a half, culminating next Friday with a showdown at conference favorite Leo. Who has the best chance of matching up individually with Latham during that time? Well, that is for all of you to debate. But whoever it is, I wish them luck because Latham has certainly put his name at the top of the list of the biggest problems to start 2021 in this entire area.
These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH