BOUNCE: Primed for a breakout 2023

Blackhawk Christian’s Isaac Smith shoots a three pointer during December 30’s game against West Noble at Trine University. (Photo by Leverage Photography)

As we end 2022 and head into a new year, here are 10 under the radar players from the first two months (or less) of the season. Bounce thinks all of these players could make a major difference to their teams and conferences in 2023.

Tucker Jenkins, Bluffton

Jenkins was one that Bounce really thought could have a solid season and he’s been a bright spot for Bluffton despite a disappointing start. The Tigers have some nice pieces and Jenkins ability to change speeds in the game is one of them. Better than that, while Jenkins has the build and aggression to drive a game one way, he has shown he is capable of driving the game through those multiple speeds. Highlighting the start of his season was a 24 point, 11 rebound game in just 18 minutes opposite South Adams.

Isaac Smith, Blackhawk Christian

Smith has been on a tear and sometimes that may get overlooked because of Josh Furst and Gage Sefton at the top of the lineup. But, Smith has been slinging it to start the season and doing it against stellar competition. When you factor in the fact he is doing this in his full year of varsity competition, that is something to admire. He remains a more versatile that just a shooter option for the Braves but at the top of the list, he can spread out the floor for an equally versatile set of teammates around him. Also, just this last week he buried eight three pointers in a single game. That, in case you wondered, isn’t easy.

Conner Slee, Fremont

We’re talking shooters? Slee may have already had his breakout moment of the season during the 2022 portion in Fremont’s win over Wayne. Not only is Slee consistently part of that heavy Fremont long range game, he has shown a great ability to move with and without the ball to create that shot. Against Wayne, since it’s a game that was big, it’s important to point out Slee also was clutch late at the free throw line where he falls just a millimeter short of being considered “automatic.”

Bradyn Barth, West Noble

The Chargers’ unbeaten start isn’t a great surprise. As Bounce’s preseason pick to win the NECC, they are headlined by OTH preseason #1 player Austin Cripe. But in 2022, Barth has kind of stolen the show while the Chargers are good feeding him as the hot hand the majority of the time in the early season games. Barth is a tough matchup inside in the NECC and has already established himself as a top post player in the conference. Every indication is that he’s just going to keep rising.

West Noble’s Bradyn Barth defends Blackhawk Christian’s Josh Furst during December 30’s game at Trine University. (Photo by Leverage Photography)

Sol Richard, Leo

As Leo finds was the work intangible guys around their primary scorers of Jackson McGee and Trey Hiteshew, Richard has emerged as a guy you want on the floor. He has shown that yeah, he can add to the scoring, but he helps the offense run smoother even if he doesn’t. He has really good situational awareness and even if he isn’t putting up shots, he can facilitate moving the ball around to the hot hands. The sophomore will only get better and more comfortable in 2023, but his steady hand has been important to Leo’s early season work.

Brooke Zartman, Warsaw

The freshman has averaged 10.3 points per game this season so she’s at the forefront of Warsaw’s strong start. BUT, that doesn’t mean she won’t break out more in 2023. Zartman has the chance to be one of the top 25 players in the area maybe by the end of the season, but certainly by the end of 2023. She has knocked down 42 three pointers, which is more than 1/3 of the team’s deep range makes this season. Zartman is an offensive wonder as a freshman.

Gracie Fields, Huntington North

She is a big threat for a Vikings team who has had some good success this season. Fields has had some big scoring nights, including 21 against New Haven but her contributions are not limited to being a secondary scorer for the Vikings because she rebounds at a high rate too. The Vikings’ Sectional hopes this season won’t hinge solely on the strength of teammate Taylor Double because Fields has started to emerge as a stellar option and that will only rise in 2023.

Huntington North’s Gracie Fields controls the ball during November 15’s game against Carroll. (Photo by Leverage Photography)

Gabi Bilbrey, Jay County

Admittedly, I may be a couple days late on this one after Bilbrey ended 2022 scoring a career high 30 points in a win over Pendleton Heights. The senior power forward is like some others on this list in that her continued development could mean good things for postseason hopes. She averages as team high 7.6 rebounds and a major showing in January’s ACAC Tournament will go a long way for the Patriots and Bilbrey’s status among area posts.

Kaleah Williams, North Side

Get to know the name now. Williams has been the major catalyst in North Side’s 5 win season, averaging eight points more per game right now than she did all of last season. North Side won five games the previous three seasons combined and now Williams has them in range to have their best season in 12 years with just two more victories. She has scored well but is a defensive standout with eight games of five or more steals, including 10 in a game.

Grace Swank, Central Noble

As the Cougars remain unbeaten, we all know about the players “at the top” in returners Madi Vice and Meghan Kiebel. But look at the freshman Swank as the future of this program. She is only averaging 4.5 points per game, but has 6.1 rebounds per contest, which is tied for the top of this team. Swank could be major catalyst at 6-foot tall and one for a long time. As the Cougars look to extend their unbeaten season as long as they can, Swank could really show out.

These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH

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