As Leo and Blackhawk Christian prepare for state title games on Saturday, we wanted to look at some of the players that may not get as much attention as others, but have been critical in the run to the final day of the 2020-21 season.
This has been a challenging season, so maybe even more so than usual, these “unsung heroes” are important to teams, their depth and their energy.
ANDREW MCINTOSH, BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
Blackhawk Christian coach Marc Davidson has long proclaimed McIntosh as the real soul of this team. He brings enthusiasm and energy every day of the week and that is massive for a team who has stayed in the upper echelon not only because of talent, but because of character and system,
McIntosh is a system guy. He has been part of this program basically his entire life and you can tell by the drive he takes the court with, while still grinning ear to ear, that walking into Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a Braves jersey on for a state title game will be like a dream come true. There was another kid just like that for the Braves two years ago named Jacob Lindsey and he too was the heart of that team.
When he gets on the court, McIntosh is reliable too. He has tallied 44 points and 32 rebounds over 20 games, but he certainly is one of the guys you count on to do the intangible things, to fly around, to take a charge and just be a gamer.
CARSON HART, LEO
Tough as nails, Carson Hart has become a critical piece of the Leo defense to spell guys off the bench. Hart has plenty of quality in-game experience and just turns it up once he takes the court. As the defense has had to face a variety of the area’s best offenses throughout the season, Hart’s speed helps. And it’s not fair to say he only has one speed, but he certainly does lean on one specific speed more than others: fast. When you match his speed with his tenacity and active hands, his defensive pressure gives Leo a big boost.
Hart has become a big part of Leo’s depth. There are games when Coach Cary Cogdell relies on the bench much less than others, but no matter what the minutes look like, Hart is always active. He has the fifth best shooting percentage on the team (45%) while scoring 4.4 points per game. While he goes fast more often than not physically, Hart is able to slow the game down mentally and has good court vision to boot, which makes him an ideal backup point guard. He leads all non-starters in assists for the Lions.
LEWIS JONES, BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
Kind of quietly, Jones has found some consistent strengths coming off the bench for the Braves. The move-in’s first year with Blackhawk Christian put him directly as a role player but he has now seen action in 28 of 30 games. As he was learning the system, the minutes were limited to blowouts but as the season has progressed he has found more of a niche in many games.
Jones has found himself scoring in double figures four different times and is clearly being given more freedom as he will adapt into one of the Braves’ top guys next season. For now, Jones means a breather when needed for a starter. He is able to come in off the bench and spell some guys without hurting the Braves in the process. The depth that Blackhawk Christian has now came about throughout this season and Jones, even if he’s not expected to score a lot (4.1 points per game), is very important to that depth.
XAVIER MIDDLETON, LEO
I hear it now. “But wait, how is a starter who just was crucial in a semistate win considered an unsung hero?!?”
And here is my response: were enough people talking about Xavier Middleton before he locked down South Bend St. Joe’s star player? No way. Yet, he has enjoyed a stellar junior season and has emerged as one of the most improved/breakout players the area has seen this season. His shooting has been a huge lift for Leo as teams started tightening up on the interior. While Leo isn’t a “shooting team” as much as it has been labeled in previous years, having Middleton there to spot up and get kick outs from Zack Troyer, DJ Allen and Blake Davison has made a world of difference. He is shooting just under 40 percent from deep with a team-best three-point shooting percentage.
Teams now have to extend significantly more to handle Middleton too as a fourth major scoring threat. And as seen in semistate, his defense is clutch on a team thaat really is tough overall on defense. Many times, a defender is judged mostly or solely on their on-ball defense, but what Middleton does it take you out of a play before the ball even touches your hands. He hounds you, he cuts off the significant angles and he makes you work to be involved at all in a possession.
JACOB BOYER, BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN
If there was a “most improved” award for this area, Boyer would have to be a frontrunner for it. He came in feisty this season, ready to not just help his team but actually make a significant impact. And let’s be honest, Boyer doesn’t get as much credit as he should for consistently keeping the Braves as state title favorites in Class 2A throughout this season. His defense is clutch, in your face and he’s never – in my opinion – seen a match-up that he won’t throw himself at. He fights and he fights and he fights and that isn’t something you can teach, this kid just wants to go to war.
In the state game, Boyer’s hunger could be really huge. He has been here before, sitting down the bench as a freshman with sparing minutes, he knows what the thrill is like at Bankers Life. Boyer is second on the team in rebounding at 6.1 per game to go with his 7.9 points per game and his solid finishing ability at the rim. Normally, it would seem kind of ridiculous to consider a starter on a state championship team as an unsung hero, but Boyer is there and it is time to really start singing his praises.
CAMERON GROVES, LEO
Winning programs are predicated on a winning and positive environment. And that is where we come to Groves, one of the seniors on this Leo team. Here are facts: he is a senior and early in the season he saw the court much more than he has recently. Teams falter when those guys pout or crumble during postseason runs. But to watch Groves on the bench, you know he is far from that guy. His excitement and sideline celebrations permeate through the crowd and the team. He is genuinely thrilled to be there and thrilled for his teammates too. Even in games where there may not have been as many fans as there were in Elkhart for the semistate game, Groves’ enthusiasm was contagious.
Leo has a solid history of seniors who love the program and would do anything for it, proud of the moments they get to spend as a Lion. To make a run to state, you can’t do it without a guy like Groves. He has played in part of 20 games this season, is a credible shooter but his biggest weapon is his ball handling. Letting big scorers play off ball has freed up this offense all season long and when Groves is in the game, he can facilitate that movement with his confidence and competence with the ball in his hands.
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