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 Summit Athletic Conference.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Jalen Jackson, Carroll
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.
Although Carroll came up one game short of winning the SAC title, it was Jackson’s continued development that pushed the Chargers to the brink of that crown and eventually helped them to a Sectional title. Jackson certainly has not peaked yet but he has developed in his career from a freshman with limited minutes to a Division I prospect as a junior. There were aspects of his game he clearly wanted to add this season and others he wanted to tighten up. He did that to great success, becoming one of the area’s biggest threats on every single inch of the hardwood.
Jackson had a lot of help at Carroll, another loaded senior class for the Chargers who could provide sparks. Jackson though was able to light a fuze and soar against any team on the schedule, dropping multiple career games including the unforgettable 45 points on 20-of-28 shooting against Snider in the Sectional title game.
Honorable Mention: Fletcher Loyer, Homestead; Brenden Lytle, Bishop Dwenger; Brauntae Johnson, North Side; Luke Goode, Homestead
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Brauntae Johnson, North Side
Often, this placement can go to a freshman, but this season in the SAC, there were guys breaking out on every level and in every class. That said, we stick with the class of 2024 because Tae Tae produced one of the best seasons in the SAC in 2020-21 and one of the best freshman seasons in the SAC in a long, long time and that includes a hoard of guys who went on to play Division 1 basketball.
Bounce said before this season that if you were focused on how good of football that Johnson played, then you were in for a rude awakening with basketball. It helps that North Side has a veteran presence at this point and a lot of guys that are battle tested. But Johnson came in and made them a contender night in and night out. Sure, the Legends weren’t a “top” team this season in the conference but they were always in the conversation when game day hit.
Johnson ended up averaging 17.3 points to go with 6.5 rebounds and a far from selfish 5.5 assists per contest. He hit the 20 point or better mark eight times during his freshman season including a career opening 26 against Mississinewa. You don’t just go into your sophomore season in the SAC as one of the top players in the area. The fact that Johnson will do just that should speak volumes about just how much he broke out and shattered the area this season.
Honorable Mention: Aidan Lambert, Snider; Jade Moore, Snider; Jordan Green, North Side; Ajani Washington, Concordia Lutheran; Isaac Zay, Bishop Luers
MOST UNDERRATRED: Rodney Woods, North Side
You would be hard pressed to convince me otherwise here. North Side, for all their growing strengths, were a different team when Woods was in the lineup versus when he was out injured. The kid is tough as nails, gritty, tenacious and freakishly athletic. Aka, everything you want in a teammate.
Woods averaged 11.1 points per game, the fifth Legend to score in double digits on average but his contributions were never solely rooted in scoring. He was second on the team in both rebounding and steals and if there was a hustle point stat kept, there is zero doubt he would lead the way there.
People look at teams and think you have to flex some big muscle as either a premier scorer or as a beastly rebounder to make a huge difference. North Side had both of those things in a lot of ways from other guys, but I still think that Woods made just as big of a difference, if not bigger, than any of the other Legends. Time to show him some respect.
Honorable Mention: Sam Strycker, Carroll; Grant Simmons, Homestead; Ryan Collins, North Side; CJ Pieper, Bishop Dwenger; Karson Jenkins, Snider
COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Johnson, Homestead
There are actually multiple places in these Bounce awards where there is a no brainer. This is one them. Chris Johnson didn’t lose until Regional Saturday at all. He plowed through the SAC again, his veteran presence was so strong and he had a team that was untouchable and not just at the top.
Getting to 25-0 is a monstrous accomplishment. It doesn’t happen much in the state ever, let alone in the SAC. Johnson is one of the best coaches in the state, period and he solidified that standing with one of the best Homestead teams ever assembled, including his state championship team.
Honorable Mention: Marty Beasley, Carroll; Jeremy Rauch, Snider; Gary Andrews, North Side
GAME OF THE YEAR: Northrop at Bishop Dwenger, Feb. 19 in OT
This isn’t going to be the conventional pick, but what a fight! You’ve got to hand it to two teams far outside the title race giving it their all in an essentially meaningless conference game just before the postseason. I mean, I guess you could throw in the towel and save some energy for Sectional play. But these two groups showed just how much pride they had going down the stretch of the season.
Northrop pushed their lead to 12 in the third quarter and Khamani Smith looked untouchably smooth at times. But the Saints, on their home court, kept pushing back. It was at the end of regulation with about 2.2 seconds left when CJ Pieper threw up a heave from just over half court while being fouled and Dwenger down four. It gave the Saints three free throws and Pieper intentionally missed the third of those free throws in the closing seconds with Bishop Dwenger trailing by two points. Pieper then rebounded his own miss and put it back to tie the game and force overtime.
With 9.2 seconds left in a back and forth overtime, the Bruins had an untimely turnover and an even more untimely foul that sent Xavier Nolan to the line for him to hit two free throws in a tie game to give the Saints a two point lead and ultimately the win.
Honorable Mention: Wayne at Northrop, Jan. 28; Bishop Luers at Wayne, Jan. 29; South Side at North Side, Dec. 11; Snider at Concordia, Jan. 22; Carroll at Snider, Jan. 29; Northrop at North Side, Jan. 15; North Side at Carroll, Feb. 9; Homestead at Carroll, Feb. 19
BOUNCE’S PICK TO BE 2022 SAC CHAMPS: Snider
This is a hard one. Homestead and Carroll are slated to return the two best players in the conference. North Side is clearly right on the cusp. But until the Legends get there and until Carroll and Homestead push out their depth to see what they can do, I am going to air on the side of caution.
That caution looks at Snider, who returns everyone but Jade Moore from a team that was a pleasant surprise in a year that was supposed to be a full on rebuild. It speaks to how coach Jeremy Rauch has been able to build up his feeder classes in the last few years. Snider was able to maintain a torrid pace and averaged 72.83 points per game in 2020-21.
Karson Jenkins and Aidan Lambert both answered the bell when it came to who could really step up and replace Dillon Duff and Michael Eley so we already know going into next season that we can expect those two to show out and perform nightly. The area also got to see a bit of sleeping giant awaken in Elijah Brown, who is arguably the most athletic player in this area regardless of class. Tylor Harding is very underrated as well and could pace Snider in trying to race to new heights.
This could be a miss when 2022 rolls around, because the ups and the downs of the SAC are always crazy. But right now, Snider has the biggest base to work of going forward.
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