Boys basketball season is over, but just like last year, I am not quite done with things yet. So over the next few days, Bounce will be giving out some awards of his own, solely of my own opinion, about each of the four main conferences in our area and beyond. Don’t forget that Outside the Huddle will award their official Player of the Year and Coach of the Year coming up soon.
Today we look at the Northeast 8 Conference.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Cole Richmond, DeKalb
Every time OTH talks MVP, it is important to point out that we focus on exactly what it stands for and it isn’t “BEST PLAYER.” Who was the most valuable to their team with what they provide? Sometimes it means the best player, sometimes it doesn’t, but specifically it is who is MOST VALUABLE to a team’s overall success. I am NOT naming a traditional conference player of the year, but focusing in this column on overall value.
Night in and night out, Richmond performed at a high level and really took away any opinion that he was a shooter and not much else. Four different times, he was up for OTH’s Fan Vote for Performance of the Week and whether DeKalb was winning or losing, Richmond was basically always at the top of the game’s offensive performances, including a great 34 point outing in a Sectional loss to Snider. That game was one of multiple career games for Richmond over the season, who had set a career high against Norwell in December, only hitting one three in the process.
DeKalb finished just shy of a winning record and Richmond provided ridiculous value to that process. He really stepped up in critical and new ways as an on court leader. He was one of, if not THE most consistent players every night and every quarter, in the NE8.
Honorable Mention: Blake Davison, Leo; Zach Hubartt, Huntington North, Tyler James, Bellmont; Thomas Latham, New Haven; Luke McBride, Norwell
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Xavier Middleton, Leo
It is easy to look back at the lauded semi state performance from Middleton and just place this tag on Middleton from that. His defense in that game, how he helped alter Leo’s fortunes to punch their ticket to the state finals, it should be remembered in Leo lore for decades to come.
But Middleton broke out long before that for Leo this season. There was the clear focus coming into the season that Leo’s two posts and Blake Davison had to be stopped. Because in a lot of ways, the buck stopped there to many fans. But Middleton took advantage of the fact that people underestimated what he could bring to the table. He attacked when needed to, was huge on the glass and knocked down a lot of big shots.
Once people started paying more attention to him, it didn’t matter. It was too late to catch up because Middleton’s on court play and confidence was clearly soaring.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Hedrick, Columbia City; Braeden Ball, East Noble; Will Hotchkiss, Huntington North; John Ulman, Bellmont; Lleyton Bailey, Norwell
MOST UNDERRATRED: Chris Hood, East Noble
The fun thing about the NE8 is that every team had a handful of players that could bite you on any given night. It makes a lot of guys underrated while also kind of making nobody underrated at the same time.
I land on Chris Hood because there is still a big part of Bounce that think people consider/label Chris Hood as “just a football player.” And my frenemy Blitz will tell you that he is very, very good at that. But Hood has really established himself over the past two seasons as a quality basketball player as he just keeps improving. Hood is incredibly difficult to defend in the post and once he gets you down at or below the block, his height and size is something that nobody else has both of.
Hood averaged 12.8 points and nine rebounds per game in 2020-21.
Honorable Mention: Xavier Middleton, Leo; Ayden Ruble, Leo; Mason Baker, Columbia City; Darrion Brooks, New Haven; Sam Thompson, Huntington North; Caden Staub, Bellmont
COACH OF THE YEAR: Cary Cogdell, Leo
The no brainer of no brainers. Yeah, you will see a trend that most of my coach of the year placements in the area go to a championship coach, which makes sense whether its conference or postseason. But what Cary Cogdell did at Leo was nothing short of amazing. In case you were asleep for the past sixth months, the Lions went on one of the longest undefeated streaks in the area, plowed through the Northeast 8 and then made a run to the Class 3A state title game despite not many people outside of the program thinking it could happen.
We were all wrong. Consistently. Leo was the favorite in their Sectional, it was a no brainer. The Regional was tougher and the semi state was a place where it was hard to see them get by South Bend St. Joe. Each time, Cogdell and his group raised the bar and surpassed every expectation set for them by those outside of the program.
Then there was the state title game. Where despite all signs pointing to a Silver Creek win by comfortable margins, the Lions had a shot to force overtime in the closing seconds. Cogdell was the mastermind behind all of this and coaching staff and players clearly matter. But he had his guys in the right spots and was clearly a respected and loved coach by this Leo team that will go down in school history.
Honorable Mention: Bruce Stephens, New Haven; Mike McBride, Norwell; Johnathon Fuelling, Bellmont
GAME OF THE YEAR: DeKalb at Bellmont, Feb. 12 – 3 Overtimes
As if there was a question. This was a dog fight.
Bellmont ran early with confident shooting from Caden Staub and John Ulman. Cole Richmond answered back. There was big shooting, quality moments in transition, good rebounding tussles and everything you’d want or expect from a big game. Tyler James had the best night of his career with 27 points for Bellmont, no bucket likely bigger than the three to beat the buzzer and force a second overtime.
Bellmont led by as many as four in the second overtime, but Brantley Hickman and Conner Penrod evened it back up for DeKalb. Penrod had a double double while Richmond scored 24 for the Barons in the loss.
The end of the game saw DeKalb do 99 percent of what they needed to do to secure a triple overtime win. That one percent though was critical free throws that were missed while DeKalb had the lead, which saw Bellmont take advantage and take a 57-56 lead with 13 seconds left on a Staub basket. DeKalb’s final shot didn’t fall and Bellmont survived an exhausting, but well executed game from both sides.
Honorable Mention: Leo at DeKalb, Feb. 8; Bellmont at Norwell, Jan. 15; Huntington North at Norwell, Feb. 12; DeKalb at New Haven, Jan. 9; Huntington North at East Noble, Jan. 9; Bellmont at East Noble, Feb. 3; DeKalb at Columbia City, Jan. 23; Columbia City at Bellmont, Jan. 9
BOUNCE’S PICK TO BE 2022 NE8 CHAMPS: Norwell
The best players, and a lot of them, in the conference are graduating. That opens things up substantially into the 2020-21 season and I am here for it. It means a new crop of top guys are really going to be established in a conference with a ton of balance to it, despite the fact that Leo went undefeated against NE8 teams.
So here is how this goes…who loses the least? Could title town be headed back to Norwell so quickly after their historic 2020 class graduated? Well Luke McBride has the argument and a very, very good one that he will be the best player in the conference after averaging 21.8 points per game as a sophomore. He also was a solid part of that championship team as a freshman so he understands the process and the nature of the beast in the NE8.
Lleyton Bailey had a solid year at over eight points per game and that’s huge as a second option. Jon Colbert, Luke Graft, Brody Bolyn and Jake Parker will all also return after each playing in 20-plus games this season. The Knights still have a nice young group to make a couple of years of runs here but this group is hungry, they are driven and Bounce just has a hunch Norwell may reclaim their throne on 2021-22.
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