TOM DAVIS: High school basketball in Indiana — as it was — has left and it isn’t coming back

Valparaiso High School boy's basketball coach Barak Coolman speaks to his players during a game earlier in his career. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Current Wheeling Jesuit University men's basketball coach John Peckinpaugh watches his team practice during his time as the head coach at Indiana Tech earlier in his career. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

“I would have given anything to be an Indiana All-Star.”

INDIANAPOLIS – The above quote sounds as if it were stated by some old-codger sitting on hardwood bleachers in a gym somewhere amidst the unfolding fields of this state. However, in actuality, it was made recently by a guy who isn’t even out of his 20s.

Former Muncie Central High School standout John Peckinpaugh achieved about all you could on a basketball court in high school. He helped arguably the most tradition-rich program in the state compete for a pair of IHSAA Class 4A state championships and the Bearcats won three North Central Conference titles during his time in purple-and-white. However, he wasn’t named to the most coveted team of all following his career and despite having a solid career as a college player (he started 60-plus games for Fort Wayne) and now coach (he was recently hired at NCAA Division II Wheeling Jesuit University) that missed opportunity still resonates to this day.

But those days – of 2008 – are seemingly long past, as the chance to be an Indiana All-Star, or better yet, Mr. Basketball doesn’t appear to hold the luster that it once did… a decade ago.

“Social media has changed the whole scheme of things, the whole realm of things,” Valparaiso High School boy’s basketball coach Barak Coolman told News-Sentinel.com Monday, “because now there is so much awareness nationally. Back in the day, the only recognition that you got was being (an Indiana All-Star). There were no lists. That kid is an Indiana All-Star or that kid is a runner-up for Mr. Basketball; THAT was the status.”

Coolman is the latest victim (my word, not his) of the new age of thinking in terms of “recognition” for high school basketball players in this state. His senior-to-be star player, Brandon Newman, recently announced that he was foregoing the certain opportunity to be an Indiana All-Star in order to spend his final high school season playing for Montverde Academy in Florida.

Newman wasn’t the first to make such a decision and he won’t be the last.

Former East Noble High School star Brad Miller ran afoul of school rules during his time in Kendallville in the early 1990s and finished his prep career at Maine Central Institute and a favorite for Mr. Basketball, Indianapolis native Robert Vaden, headed to that same state (Bridgeton Academy) a decade later as opposed to staying at Pike High School. However, in recent seasons, the departure of the state’s best talent has occurred with an alarming frequency.

“Now the status symbol has changed,” Coolman said. “Now it is ‘What’s your ranking?’ It’s all of those things that kind of the ‘AAU world’ has created. Unfortunately, it’s all (this generation) know.”

For the Fort Wayne area, the lack of appreciation for wanting to earn that “status” has been more galling than in most.

Former South Side High School star Rapheal Davis finished his prep career at La Lumiere School near LaPorte before heading to Purdue, while a year ago, Jaylen Butz (North Side) and Malik Williams (Snider) both were named to the 2017 squad but begged off due to being too busy.

“This generation knows way more about the kid in California that is ranked as a five-star,” Coolman said, “as opposed to a kid in southern Indiana. If you are one of the top players in the nation, they know about each other. They know all of their footage. That feeds into today’s dynamics and the changing of the game.”

Coolman shouldn’t be surprised that the sport has changed because he was told as a teenager that this day was coming.

When Coolman was a junior varsity player at Leo High School, his coach, Phil Bollier, said ‘High school basketball is going to go extinct as we know it.’

Like a lot of young people, Coolman was skeptical of what his coach was telling him but now he understands what Bollier was speaking of.

“I remember going ‘Oh no, coach,'” Coolman recalled. “Now it is, maybe as we know it, it definitely is changing. He may have been way ahead of the game.”

Coolman is hopeful that prep schools, travel teams and the like don’t overtake IHSAA programs on a mass scale but that is all that it is, is hope.

“You may lose the elite players,” Coolman said, “but that is such a small percentage. There is still really high-quality basketball, there still really are good basketball players, and there is such a need for extracurricular athletics in the schools. As an administrator, I see it all the time. It can change a kid’s life.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

For more on the sport of basketball from Tom Davis, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010, Facebook at Thomas Davis, and Instagram at tomdavis101010.

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