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. 25-21
No. 25 Xavier Middleton, Leo
If you thought you knew Middleton’s game last year, things should have changed after the postseason. Middleton came into his junior year as an excellent shooter who was going to help stretch out opposing defenses. That didn’t change as he helped Leo to be the top team in the Northeast 8. Along the way, he really solidified himself as a high quality defender that Leo could rely on in some tough spots. Then the second half of the semi state game came and Middleton found himself guarding Notre Dame commit JR Kocienczy. Middleton found himself promptly shutting down the future ACC player too, ending South Bend St. Joe’s title hopes and really being a (or the) main reason that Leo made a trip to their first ever state finals.
So who is Middleton in our eyes as we start the 2021-22 season? There is credible evidence to call him one of the more elite defenders in our area. Just go to South Bend and ask JR. As much though as that game will always stand out, Middleton is not a one trick kind of guy. As he increased his on court production last year, both in the aforementioned areas, and by being huge rebounding the ball, his confidence soared too. Again this season, Leo will have twin tower posts, so Middleton being able to attack the glass is huge. His offensive rebounding ability will continue to be crucial in getting the Lions multiple opportunities on any given possession.
COACH’S QUOTE ON XAVIER MIDDLETON
“Xavier hit a lot of big shots for us last year. He is a competitor who is an excellent defender. The physicality and quiet intensity he brings helps raise our team’s effort level.” – Leo coach Cary Cogdell
No. 24 Jordan Green, North Side
Green is a solid rebounder and at times he shows the instincts and awareness to clean the glass very efficiently. His athleticism makes him hard to contain when the high effort is present with him rebounding the ball and he averaged 7.2 rebounds per game. He has a pretty strong arsenal of moves in the post for a young guy that isn’t what you’d call a true big man. It helps him that he has the length to display his power in the post against smaller players that, let’s be honest, aren’t as athletic as Green most of the time. Adding strength will be important in making the most of his skills in the low post. He shot 53 percent last season inside the arc and also converted on 70 percent of his free throws.
When Green really took off offensively, the Legends were practically unbeatable. His two biggest games saw the team average 95.5 points per game. Those games – 33 points against Snider and 37 against Bishop Luers – saw him shoot just under 69 percent from the field. Green can really take off on that end and his ability to attack at the basket offensively makes him really hard to defend unless you want to foul him along the way.
COACH’S QUOTE ON JORDAN GREEN
“Jordan has really improved his range on his shot. He is very athletic and can really score and jump. His ability to score, rebound and block shots is really important to us.” – North Side coach Gary Andrews
No. 23 Connor Penrod, DeKalb
Penrod excels inside the paint and around the rim with quality footwork and the ability to attack from 10 feet in. What he does, he does very well and doesn’t venture outside of that lane unless he needs to. That said, he really has been improving his shooting from that 10 foot mark out so he can add an asset to the Barons. Penrod is great when it comes to shedding defenders and then working himself into scoring opportunities with post maneuver. His footwork is solid and the ease he can work with it to score is fun to watch.
There is quite a bit to like with Penrod as a help defender that has good instinct to both block shots and contribute with some steals on the defensive end. The addition of strong defensive minded coach Marty Beasley is only going to serve as a way for Penrod to keep getting better on the defensive end. Though, as it stands, he is able to alter shots and rim protect in a conference that has and will showcase its fair share of decent post play. The question will be for him if he can go from a quality inside guy to a dominant interior scorer because of his instincts crashing the glass, creating for teammates and his soft touch at the rim.
COACH’S QUOTE ON CONNOR PENROD
“Very skilled, shoots the ball well and finishes inside.” – DeKalb coach Marty Beasley
No. 22 Darrion Brooks, New Haven
The stronger that Brooks has gotten, the more he has really stood out from the crowd. He was immediately an impact player for New Haven two years ago as a freshman due to his length and his defensive IQ. It actually made him one of the area’s better shot blockers immediately as far as his ability to challenge shots that wouldn’t normally get blocked, like midrange jumpers. But as he has matured, put on a bit of mass and improved that strength, he has showcased that he can defend spots 1-5 pretty well no matter the opponent. In a physical NE8, having a player with that defensive ability has been nice. He did have 16 blocks and 29 steals a season ago.
Maturity has also made Brooks a three level scorer. While not relying on a deep game, he is more than competent shooting the ball and will really want his shooting percentage from deep to rise significantly. His mid range, including a nice looking floater, is strong because of his ability to handle the ball well and stop on a dime to pull up for those shots, creating space between him and the defense. As the years go on, he has also gotten a lot better at finishing at and above the rim, showcasing that he isn’t afraid to get into and through contact. Brooks finished last season averaging 11.9 points and 4.7. rebounds per game.
COACH’S QUOTE ON DARRION BROOKS
“Darrion Brooks will be expected to do more ball handling and create for others as well as scoring individually. He will also be one of our teams defensive standouts.” – New Haven coach Bruce Stephens
No. 21 Ashton Johnson, South Side
Shifting into his senior season, Johnson is probably in the best playing shape of his life and it shows. Johnson’s motor has always been strong, but it really started hitting at a high level at the end of last season and over the summer. He has had to play a lot of positions for the Archers over the years but is now nicely settling into more of a true point guard role. He averaged 3.1 assists per game last season, securing five or more on six occasions, including a season best seven assists against Michigan City. He continues to get better at the point guard position because he has solid natural instincts and also because the physicality he can play with draws in defenders as he gets to rim allows other Archers to get more open.
Playing through that contact, rebounding the ball well and other non “traditional point guard” roles still sizzle for Johnson. That comes because of the aforementioned depth of positions he has had to play. There is little chance that Johnson will shy away from defending in the post or getting into a physical battle in the paint. Six times last season he scored 20 or more points and finished the year averaging 14.8 points to go along with 5.1 rebounds per game.
COACH’S QUOTE ON ASHTON JOHNSON
“Ashton Johnson arrived to South Side with lofty expectations, he is now in his final year of his high school career. He has worked hard during the off season and it will be interesting to watch him play as he has something to prove and he has put the time in to hone his skills.” – South Side coach JJ Foster
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