Following a 25-win season, ranked No. 1 in the state for a time and winning conference and sectional championships, one would think Homestead would be expected to slip a bit this season.
But even after losing an Indiana Mr. Basketball contender to graduation in Luke Goode, the Spartans are in good hands.
As Goode gets used to college hoops at Illinois, Purdue commitment Fletcher Loyer takes over as the senior leader with a shot at Indiana Mr. Basketball. The guard averaged a team-high 24.4 points per game and is considered by many to be the top shooter in northeast Indiana.
But it isn’t just his shooting prowess that makes Loyer so good.
“Fletcher is a mentally tough basketball player that understands the game,” Coach Chris Johnson said. “A pure shooter who can also create shots on his own. Purdue is getting a good one.”
Loyer will be complemented be fellow senior Andrew Leeper, who showed spurts of dominance last season but also had a tendency to struggle against more physical foes. If he can be consistent and clean up the glass while being a problem on both ends in the post, it can make Homestead a true inside-out team.
Andrew’s brother Grant Leeper ascends to the varsity level after playing JV last season. It is the 6-foot-7 junior that could be the greatest beneficiary to starting spots opening up with the graduation of Goode, Grant Simmons and others. Grant is a very balanced player who can finish at the rim and spot up and knock down an outside shot.
Junior Kyron Kaopuiki is a guard that has the potential to be a 1 guard for the Spartans, but Loyer will get the nod to bring the ball up the floor more often than not.
Seniors Ifeanyi Ezeakudo and Grady Swing are also expected to fill bigger roles this campaign after seeing spot action a year ago.
This is by no means a loaded offensive juggernaut, but Loyer is a true difference maker at the top. He not only fills the scorebook in buckets, he makes players around him better. Just as last year saw the rise of players like Simmons, Kaleb Kolpien and Quinn Harmon around Goode and Loyer, so too is the expectation that a new cast of characters emerge to complement the star.
The schedule is once again loaded with challenges, particularly in the first half of the season. A game at Alter (OH) on Thanksgiving weekend begins the travels, with neutral site games against Carmel, Westfield and Chesterton in December. Sparty will take on Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern on Dec. 21 and take on Cathedral in the Hall of Fame Tournament the day before New Years Eve.
Altogether, Homestead looks like the most complete team in the area, led by, in our opinion, the top player in northeast Indiana in Loyer. But there are question marks, particularly with depth.
Coach Chris Johnson has a knack for getting the most out of his players, so a roster with a few question marks now doesn’t mean by the end of the season we aren’t wondering why we questioned things in the first place.
JAN. 14 vs. SNIDER
This may end up being the SAC championship game as the top two teams in the league face off. Last season, Homestead took down Snider by 18 points in the regular season on its way to undefeated SAC (and regular season, for that matter).
The Panthers want nothing more than to show they are the class of the conference this season.
FLETCHER LOYER, SENIOR
The Purdue commit is on the short list of preseason contenders for Indiana Mr. Basketball. His game should see him average over 30 points per game in his final year at the prep level. But he is so much more as a player than just a deadly scorer. He raises the level of play around him, and if the complementary pieces fit together, this team can make a run in 4A.