Boys prep hoops preseason countdown: #2 BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN BRAVES
Stay healthy. That has to be priority number one for Blackhawk Christian this season. Highly ranked and respected in Class 1A last season, injuries to Drake Thompson, Lucas Kroft and Kole Barkaus derailed a state tournament run. But despite Barkaus’ graduation and Kroft’s transfer, the experience gained by others in their absences will play a major role in giving Blackhawk some of the best depth in Class 1A.
In the preseason, they are ranked #8 in the first Associated Press poll, in part due to not knowing what to expect out of a healthy team when so much of the program’s narrative last year was about injury.
Expectations are high for the Braves heading into a season that has been built up to for years. The senior class was built for this season and will have pressure on them to succeed from the beginning. Games at North Side and New Haven will be a significant test, but the post-Christmas jaunt to the North Daviess Tournament gives the Braves a more true gauge at the long term with several quality southern Class 1A programs like Barr-Reeve taking part.
But testing themselves has always been at the forefront of coach Marc Davidson’s approach in his previous four years. This season, they will also play nine of the ten Summit Athletic Conference schools to toughen themselves up for a postseason run after losing in the Sectional final last season to Lakewood Park.
“You look at the schedule and the teams we are able to play and the beauty of it is that when you are in Fort Wayne, you don’t have to go very far to play great basketball teams every night,” Davidson says.
6-8, 6-9, 6-10. Find another Indiana high school program, let alone in Class 1A with a front line like that. Thompson returns to anchor the middle for his senior year after missing the majority of last season injured. Before he went down around the turn of the calendar to 2017, he was averaging 12.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. More impressively, Thompson was good at creating contact inside and finishing at the charity stripe, where he hit 78 percent of his free throws. Thompson’s presence alone is fearsome before the addition of two guys taller than him.
“He looks good, he feels good and I think mentally he is in a very good place; he’s hungry,” Davidson notes of Thompson. “It can be a real pain to sit out but it can also add a couple of logs to the fire so to speak.”
6-foot-9 Caleb Furst will join the Braves as the most highly touted freshman in the area. He has the attention of college programs already before he’s ever touched a high school court. Furst can defend at a high level and plays above the rim, making him the athletic ying to Thompson’s yang of a traditional power post. 6-10 Jared Hofer, a transfer from Carroll, will be eligible to join the team in January. After averaging 4.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in nine games as a Charger last season, Hofer has greatly improved his game and will fall somewhere in the middle of Thompson and Furst as far as playing as a traditional post and more agile in the midrange.
“Caleb is really special. The element that he brings to the table is the ability to run the floor. He can shoot it and handles the ball well,” Davidson says. “The transition is not going to seem like a huge jump just given the summer schedule that he plays; he’s played in the big tournaments against all of the big names from his class. I expect it to be a relatively seamless transition for him.”
A fourth post player, senior Kyle Zurbuch (7.6 points, 6.6 rebounds per game), jumped into a major role last year due to injuries. Adding him gives Blackhawk Christian significantly more post depth than other area teams.
“We’ve got some size inside that is going to demand attention,” Davidson says.
Senior Jalan Mull returns after a 9.1 assists per game campaign that was the best in the state. The offense that Mull generates either with his court vision and passing or driving to the basket is crucial. Mull will likely open up the court for guys around him to work inside and outside.
“Jalan Mull is really going to be that guy for us to step up and take ownership in this team,” Davidson says. “He’s such a special player and to me, the best thing you can say about a player is that he makes his teammates better. Jalan Mull makes everyone around him so much better.”
Around Mull is whole plethora of shooters to work around him on the wings. At the forefront of that group is junior Frankie Davidson, who will be a significantly better player this season and one that teammate Mull has raved about. Davidson (12.4 points, 53 percent three-point shooting) is dangerous enough to lead the team in scoring on any given night no matter the opponent. Seniors Luke Sassmannshausen and Devin Donaldson return, both after averaging 5.3 points per game. They, like Zurbuch, gained crucial varsity experience last year, in part due to injuries to players above them in the depth chart.
“Offensively we can do something different things and we are going to have the opportunity to be part to stop offensively,” Davidson says. “As our guys by in defensively, that is going to be the key to see what this group can be. We’ve seen signs of that moving in the right direction so that will be a continual point of emphasis for us.”
A pair of smaller junior guards, Michael Pulver and transfer Landin Jacquay, will provide even more depth should the Braves need it.
THE BIG QUESTION
How will the big lineup fare against wing heavy lineups? With a heavy part of their schedule against a post-thin SAC, it will be intriguing to see how Thompson and (eventually) Hofer are used against smaller, quicker lineups. A lot of that will be told by how well Thompson has sprung back from an injury and the level his footwork is at. There also is the question of what Furst looks like as a defender on a high school varsity level and if he will continue to be able to defend strongly against the area’s premiere perimeter threats.
BIG GAME TO WATCH
Without a doubt, it is November 28’s visit to North Side and a rematch of a game that was very close a year ago. The two teams are arguably the best in the area and represent the truest of early season tests. Not to mention, there are plenty of additional storylines between the two programs and By Hey Arena should have it’s highest mid-week attendance of the season for this game.