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 2021-22 season. This is our third annual Top 50 countdown.
Today, we unveil five of the best in the area at positions No. 40-36
No. 40 Mason Baker, Columbia City
Baker has worked tirelessly to extend his reach beyond being “just a shooter.” Now the true leader for an Eagles team that looks to compete in the NE8 title race, Baker has developed a maturity to his game that has extended to him being able to do more than just shoot the ball. Baker averaged 9.8 points, 3.1 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game in 2020-2021. Expectations will be for him to raise all of those this year, but the assist number may be the most telling of his development. Baker doesn’t rush things often, he is patient with the ball in his hands and, as that more mature player, he isn’t just looking to take the shot always. He started to really help dictate Columbia City’s offense last year and when he slows things down, his court vision is solid to help make plays for others. That itself opens up his own shot too as teams may hedge off him a bit to cut down on ball movement.
While he is not “just” that shooter anymore, Baker is incredibly good at being a shooter. He’s gone from that knockdown guy that you don’t want your defense to lose to someone who can just take over games with how he hits. He did it for Columbia City and he did it over the summer as well. Baker isn’t just a gamer anymore, he is a game changer as he has shifted his shooting to a much higher and consistent level.
COACH’S QUOTE ON MASON BAKER
“Mason is a kid who works his tail off and has had a tremendous offseason. His strong spring and summer have earned him a couple of opportunities to play at the next level. With this being Mason’s third year of varsity basketball, we look for him to be a strong leader and someone who is a difference maker on both ends of the floor. He loves Columbia City and wants to bring success to our program.” – Columbia City coach Matt Schauss
No. 39 Andrew Hedrick, Columbia City
A great surprise for the Eagles last year was Hedrick’s emergence, including a buzzer beater in home game one of the season that immediately put him on the map in the NE8 and the area. Hedrick is the type of player that just goes all out on each and every play and can do the intangible things you look for in a glue guy. Yet, he has quickly become so much more than just a glue guy as the Eagles top returning scorer this year. Hedrick averaged 10.5 points per game last year and was named to the All-NE8 first team, not easy task with the conference’s talent just last season. He can score on all three levels and, as indicated early in 2020-21 against Whitko, is not frightened by big moments or shots.
Hedrick will lead the Eagle offense this season and is coming off averaging 4.1 assists last season. His vision is getting better, but Hedrick can excel at lead guard because of the frenetic pace he can lead. While teams are worried about keeping up with him, he is able to find open shooters or cutters well. Look for that skill to only rise this season while he inches closer to triple-double. numbers. Hedrick also added 4.5 rebounds per game last season as an attribute of his ball hawk attitude where he just wants to have the ball to help make plays.
COACH’S QUOTE ON ANDREW HEDRICK
“Andrew is 1 of 2 sophomores who made the NE8 all-first team. He is a special talent who has the ability to make everyone around him better. We have challenged him to be a more vocal leader and the quarterback of our team. Andrew is an ultimate competitor who loves to win and we think he is willing to do whatever is asked of him to get that job done.” – Columbia City coach Matt Schauss
No. 38 Elijah Davis, Snider
A quality piece in a 2020-21 Snider team that exceeded expectations that others had for them, Davis is a big energy guy. He plays hard and is always trying to make something happen in the game. At this age, too often do guys take a play off here and there to either catch their breath or just because they want to. Davis doesn’t appear to have that gene in his body because he just doesn’t stop. He is raw in a lot of areas, but plays with some flash, is very athletic and has a high upside going into his senior season. Davis uses his speed and athleticism to keep ball handlers in front of him well on the perimeter. He shows a ton of energy and effort on the defensive end in bursts.
Davis is probably the player on this list that averages the least amount of points per game, but that is more than ok. One, because if you have watched him play you know he can get going scoring and will be relied to do so more this season. Two, he falls in the vein of some previous Snider Top 50 kids in that he can change the game significantly without having to score a bunch. His biggest minute outing of the year last season saw him put up 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting so he is absolutely able to put the ball through the hoop.
COACH’S QUOTE ON ELIJAH DAVIS
“Elijah can shoot it, takes pride in his court vision and passing, and an excellent driver both ways. He also brings a contagious energy to our team, and is a terrific defender, both on and off the ball. A breakout season from Elijah will be key for us to maximize our potential.” – Snider coach Jeremy Rauch
No. 37 Braden Smith, Woodlan
Another of the area’s just lights out shooters, Smith quickly took pride in shocking opposing teams who weren’t ready for freshman to drain big shots consistently. The first couple games of his high school career saw him shoot poorly, but by the time that Woodlan topped Fremont in game five, Smith was finding his stride, connecting on 7-of-12 shots for a then career high 18 points. He ended up hitting 42 three pointers as a freshman at a 39 percent success rate while he hit 50 percent of his total shots. Smith’s first four games of February saw him hit 13 three pointers with two of his best shooting games of the season being against ACAC foes Jay County (4-8) and South Adams (5-8), both in wins.
What keeps Smith outside of a strictly pure shooter category is the fact that throughout the last 12 months, he has gotten substantially better at creating his own shot. Smith can spot up but he moves well without the ball to get the open looks even as he saw tougher and junkier defenses late last season and over the summer. Just wanting your team to not give him space is one thing that is hard because Smith knows how to spring free from those moments. He is also improving at catching and creating with the ball. He ended the 2020-21 season averaging 12.3 points per game while scoring in double figures in 8 of his last 10 games. He also averaged 4.1 rebounds per game.
COACH’S QUOTE ON BRADEN SMITH
“Last year, Braden made the jump from 8th grade basketball to being an all-ACAC performer. Though Braden is an excellent shooter and scorer, he also impacts games through his defense and rebounding. The great thing about him is that he is nowhere near content with his game. I look forward to seeing his game continue to grow in the coming years.” – Woodlan coach John Baker
No. 36 Owen Shively, Bishop Dwenger
Shively blended in to the mostly even balanced Saints last season but if you look deeply at him, you still see a guy who is continuing to get more and more athletic and explosive and a guy who can score in a lot of ways from 15 feet in. He has been thrown a variety of positions and needs at Dwenger and it has helped him develop into a more consistent offensive threat. That versatility shows that he can still spot up in the post and make moves, which he is crafty enough to do, but he also works strong in the high post where he can shoot or drive, and also has multiple points along the way where he can find open Saints shooters. You have to have a guy like Shively on your team who can do a bit of everything pretty well.
The things that make Shively an improving threat on offense also work for him on defense and its why the Saints have relied on him in the post on and off. He is physical and he is long and that makes it hard for teams to battle with him, especially guards who may look to take an advantage based on speed. He can play inside-out on the defensive end, which helps stave off any potential mismatches that he and Bishop Dwenger could run into while he is in the lineup.
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