NOW PREVIEWING: 2021 Champions of Character Classic at Grace College

Central Noble’s Jackson Andrews glides past DeKalb’s Connor Penrod during a December 19, 2020 game. The game was part of the Champions of Character Classic at Grace College. (Photo by Leverage Photography)

This Saturday, December 18, will be the fifth annual Champions of Character Classic, held at Grace College. All six games on the day will feature Outside the Huddle Area teams, nine teams in total over those games.

Something fun that the Classic does each year is select a ‘Champion of Character’ award winner to help promote sportsmanship. Below are quick looks into each of the six games on the schedule with Bounce’s picks included. The day is separated into two sessions with the cost to attend at $10 per session.

You can follow along with the Champions of Character Classic by following them on Twitter at @COCClassic


PLAYERS TO WATCH: Columbia City is going to look for Mason Baker to continue to be dynamic. Yes, he is a lights out shooter and can change this game just by doing that, but the more that Baker moves and sets up the Eagle offense, the stronger they have the chance to be. Andrew Hedrick is a great too at making this team go, but a big eye should be kept on Elias Spelman, who has shown great strengths around the rim.

Wayne has a very young core, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play. Jevon Lewis is the heart of this team on both ends of the floor and can fill it up from deep and by slithering to the rim when needed. Wayne will want his field goal percentage to be high. This will be a great first bigger platform test for freshman Chase Barnes, who has himself a solid pedigree and has shown some solid scoring ability thus far.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Columbia City is going to have to try very hard to match Wayne’s pace because breaking it may prove to be much more difficult. Although Wayne’s record sits about the exact opposite of the Eagles, they have experienced much tougher competition to this point. This is the first true test of the season for the Eagles, who although seasoned, haven’t been pushed as much in tempo. It is hard to see this game not being an up and down, quick scoring game so whoever can maintain that pace has the best shot at opening the day with a win.

BOUNCE’S PREDICITION: Columbia City by 8


PLAYERS TO WATCH: If you aren’t watching Aidan Lambert, then what are you watching. With only one game played, he is still averaging 40 points/game. He and Karson Jenkins are one of the best, if not the best, duo in the SAC. They are going to get theirs. One to watch this weekend is Grant Brown, who didn’t shoot particularly well in Snider’s first game and saw foul trouble keep him out of the game. If Brown can stay on the court and is hitting, he is a third major weapon.

The Pirates are a defensive minded team. They are going to pressure the Panthers in a way that, fairly, Snider hasn’t seen yet in their one game. Merrillville is young but a little deep with energetic guys that are going to pressure the ball in a number of ways. Darrin Weaver Jr. leads the way as a ball smart guard who knows how to handle himself. That said, don’t expect the Pirates to be a one trick. show at all.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Both of these teams are playing back to back on Friday and Saturday. While neither has done it yet, it is important that Snider has not played in the month of December and only has one game under their belts versus over 25 practices. It is so hard to project what Snider may be after this long layoff from games and with such a small sample size. That sample size tells us though that this is a very dynamic team. The Panthers are going to have to shoot better than they did against East Noble, stay out of foul trouble and not get too ahead of themselves by trying to force their defenses to turn into easy offense.



PLAYERS TO WATCH: There is a kid named Connor Essegian, who has done just about everything so far this season to justify Mr. Basketball candidacy talk. He scores, he rebounds and Essegian’s defense may be at the best it has been all season. He has become super crafty with his hands and no ball protection attempts from the other team seem to be safe. Around him, there are a ton of guys that can do a lot. Logan Gard‘s continued physicality and high. shooting percentage have made him the perfect accent for Essegian while you can count on 5 or 6 others to keep chipping in; watch for a potential breakout game from Jackson Andrews.

Joe Reidy is now the all-time leading scorer in Woodlan history and he’s going to be their main focus, as. he should be, on Saturday. Reidy’s game is tough to guard in a one on one situation because of his length. Braden Smith shined against Garrett with 22 points but the sniper has now hit just 1 of his last 10 three pointers and 4 of his last 20. With an uptick in his scoring, Woodlan is a much bigger threat.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cougars have already found a winning formula this season and it is simple: never let the other team get comfortable. Essegian leads a great pace and has absolutely been filling it up. The plan is simple, let Connor work because not only is he going to get buckets, he is great at getting his teammates involved. That is why this team is winning by almost 40 points per game this season, because everyone finds ways to chip in.

Woodlan needs to find guys to score. We have seen incredible highs for the Warriors and really sour lows this season. The lows come when they get shut down offensively. While Reidy has been strong, the lack of scoring around him sometimes makes it much easier for teams to clamp him down with junk defenses. Woodlan needs to find their open shots and make those open shots to make life a little bit easier on their leading scorer and themselves.

BOUNCE’S PREDICITION: Central Noble by 25

Blackhawk Christian’s Josh Furst goes up for a shot during a November 30 game against North Side. (Photo by Leverage Photography)


PLAYERS TO WATCH: This is a Blackhawk team that continue to show off depth and an unwillingness to relay on one singular force. Not only does that make it challenging for opponents, but it also says a lot about the diversity both in the lineup and how individual guys play. Josh Furst has been a menace more often than not this season and this could be an even bigger breakout game for him. This could also be a big game for Jacob Boyer, who has done all those Boyer things this year, but he could really ramp up his physicality this weekend.

Joey Cabana may not be the most powerful player for Chelsea, but his big output a week ago has ti have him on the map for the Braves. Cabana hit four three pointers in the opening of Chelsea’s win on December 10. Matt Blanton is another Chelsea player to keep an eye on in this one as he is a leader in their backcourt.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Braves need to feed the post. It is not at all a foreign concept to them at all and you have to be willing to attack at the rim. Furst and Boyer are a powerful duo and feeding Furst as a first option has to be on the agenda. Its fair to say that coach Marc Davidson probably has a much better idea of what the team from Chelsea, Michigan can do but as of this point it hasn’t looked like many can match Furst’s effort down low.

BOUNCE’S PREDICITION: Blackhawk Christian by 10


PLAYERS TO WATCH: Fletcher Loyer and Andrew Leeper are the easy picks here. Because, well Loyer is a high level Mr. Basketball candidate – seriously go to Grace Saturday and watch two Mr. Basketball candidates – and Leeper is really coming into a different level as a scorer this season. But here are two others that help make up the Spartan core, starting with Grant Leeper. He showed a lot of promise this summer and although his numbers aren’t high to start the season, he is due for a big game that he can dominate around the basket. Grady Swing doesn’t get enough credit for his defense, something that has helped push the Spartans in wins over Westfield and Carmel. He is just a consistently reliable guy.

This is no slouch team for the Trojans, who enter the day at 4-0 on the season. Travis Grayson was a big part of a successful season last year and him matching up with Loyer is something that should be expected. Inside, they can rely on a lot which is why the matchup of the Leeper brothers versus Justin Sims and Chris Mullen is one to pay attention to.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Defense has been crucial all season for Homestead. They get stops that are big and they get them in the key moments. They have been able to stave off opponent runs and late pushed by knowing when to turn it up a notch themselves. That is critical here for a Spartan team playing back to back days while Chesterton has three days off of games before this meeting at Grace. Homestead has to exploit tempo and be able to flip their own mental switch when its time to hit the thrusters.



PLAYERS TO WATCH: If North can feed Brauntae Johnson consistently, they are going to be successful. This is nothing new and it is a game plan they have to attack. Brashawn Bassett is critical too because he can really roll or he get can cold so he has to find the right level for himself. This is a day we could see Jordan Green have the breakout game of his junior year too, something we haven’t seen as much of as we probably expect.

Jaxson Gould is coming off his breakout game of the season with 32 points, albeit in a loss. Feed the hot hand here and let him work. Judah Simfukwe continues to be a consistently presence all year and a guy that Warsaw knows they can lean on in the thick and thin moments if he happens to be back from a hand injury that sidelined him against Crown Point. If he is out, Russ Winchester gives Warsaw another reliable shooter and rebounder that will need to step up.

KEYS TO THE GAME: North Side is just going to have to play within themselves and it is hard to know if they even know what that identity is yet. They are an aggressive hard nosed team that when they go to work in a business like manner, find success. While they have sharpshooters, the Legends can’t be too reliant on the three ball. They have to get to the rim and finish through contact.

Warsaw, on the other hand, has to dictate pace their own way. A lot of times, the Tigers are going to want to slow down what North Side is doing. At the same time, if North Side is going too fast and getting ahead of themselves, then Warsaw should use that to their advantage and try to speed the Legends up. Warsaw has the capability of playing at a lot of different paces and they should show that.


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