Boys prep hoops preseason countdown: #1 NORTH SIDE LEGENDS

North Side's Keion Brooks Jr. and Homestead's Parker Manges battle for post position during the championship game of the SAC Holiday Tournament on December 29, 2016 at Wayne High School. (Photo by Dan Vance of The News-Sentinel)
North Side's Brandan Johnson pulls up for a shot over the defense of Ben Davis' Datrion Harper during the 2017 Class 4A State championship game on March 25, 2017 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (News-Sentinel file photo)

The Legends had a fantastic season last year, going 27-3, and advancing all the way to the state finals in Indianapolis where they lost the Class 4A championship game to Ben Davis. Six seniors, 40 points, 20 rebounds and 12 assists per game are gone, and despite all those losses, everyone still expects big things from the Legends this year.

That’s largely because all-state forward Keion Brooks returns for his junior season, and there are significant transfer additions in Austin Boucher, Lucas Kroft, Jalen Causey and Mike Scott.

“It can be challenging,” Legends coach Shabaz Khaliq said. “It’s about building our culture and getting them aware of what our expectations are, but we have guys coming back who are very comfortable with what our expectations are. It starts in practice and kind of works it way from there. It’s more about what we do in practice to get us ready for the games. That practice culture will get those guys acclimated.”v

FRONTCOURT

Brooks averaged 20.7 points and 6 rebounds last year, and he’s joined by Lucas Kroft who averaged 16 points last year for Blackhawk Christian and Scott who played at Bishop Luers. After playing off the bench last season, Nate Carbaugh also gets more playing time.

“Keion is going to draw a lot of attention and therefore he’s going to be able to find guys and distribute the ball at a high rate to get guys involved,” Khaliq said. “He just continues to refine what he does offensively. We look for him to be a leader this year. This is his opportunity, even as a junior.”

BACKCOURT

Boucher is a 20-plus scorer who can pass the ball, and he might play some point guard. Bishop Luers-transfer Causey might also get some time running the team.

“Jalen Causey will be able to penetrate and distribute and get other guys involved, and we can then move Austin to the wing,” Khaliq said. “Jalen should have his pick of the litter when it comes to guys he can find in transition and guys he can go to in the confines of what we do.”

The X-factor is Brandan Johnson who averaged 8 points and 3 assists last year as a junior. Khaliq said Johnson could almost play any position depending on what the Legends need, so he could he be in the frontcourt or the backcourt. Another guard contributor will be senior Alijah Long, who came off the bench last season.

THE BIG QUESTION

Everyone agrees there’s a lot of talent to work with, but how will all of these players acclimate themselves into the team? These are returning players who probably feel they’ve earned the playing time by being with the program, and newcomers who have impressive resumes. How’s it all going to work? The Legends got a little bit of a look at that over the summer.

“It was interesting because we didn’t have Keion a lot because he was all over the country,” Khaliq said. “It gave us an opportunity to work with these other guys and get them prepared. They had to be assertive and couldn’t defer. That was good to see. We got a good idea who they are and what their character is and what their work ethic is all about.

“Clearly, everybody will look at the talent we lost. Chemistry walked out the door. We’ve got to make sure we are geared up to what our goals are and get them to buy in. Just because we have Keion, it doesn’t guarantee us anything. We have to do it collectively as a group.”

BIG GAME TO WATCH

On his preseason questionaire, Khaliq answered this category as “all of them,” which is technically true, because if any team beats the Legends it will be the highlight of their season and prove to everyone else they are pretty good. But really, the answer is Dec. 9 against New Albany and Mr. Basektball candidate Romeo Langford at Southport.

“Everybody has kind of circled that one, and that’s one we see as an opportunity to see some things,” Khaliq said. “We want to represent Fort Wayne basketball in the best way possible.”

There’s also a Nov. 28 game against Blackhawk Christian, the No. 2 team in our News-Sentinel preview, and local games against No. 3 Homestead, No. 4 Wayne, No. 5 South Side, No. 6 Carroll and No. 8 Snider. Of the Legends’ first 10 games, they play a stretch that includes Blackhawk Christian, Hamilton Southeastern, New Albany, Snider, St. Joseph (Ohio), Valparaiso and Indianapolis Cathedral all before Christmas. Those seven teams averaged 20 wins last season.

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