Some of the best high school basketball talent in and around Marion County took to the court April 20 at Arsenal Technical High School for the Prep Ball Stars Midwest Challenge. For most, it was their last high school basketball experience, capping four years of stardom that, for many, is about to turn into a fight just to get some playing time in college.
The Midwest Challenge pitted Team Indiana, Team Ohio, Team Michigan and Team Wisconsin against each other for an afternoon that felt closer to winter than spring, perhaps Mother Nature’s homage to the tournament. Some stretches of games resembled an NBA All-Star Game, where players put a little more effort into giving the fans a show, but for the most part, these were competitive games featuring some of the best players the Midwest has to offer.
“Every game that we come out here and play, it means something to us,” said Jared Hankins, a senior at Lawrence North High School who’s committed to Indiana State University. “We’re gonna try to give these guys that come out a show. I know a lot of people pay money to come out and watch us.”
Team Indiana defeated Team Ohio, 127-114, but lost to Team Michigan in the championship, 124-123, after Team Michigan’s Julian Dozier went the length of the court in about four seconds and put up a game-winning 3-point runner at the buzzer.
Ben Davis High School’s Jalen Windham, who’s undecided about his college plans, led Team Indiana in the first game with 19 points. Zionsville’s Isaiah Thompson, who will play basketball at Purdue University like his older brother P.J. Thompson, scored 22 points in the championship.
In the end, a loss at an all-star invitational tournament doesn’t have much of a lasting impact, but it was maybe a hint of what Team Indiana coach Omar Dillard said he wanted his players to learn as they prepare for a more challenging college experience.
“They haven’t experienced a lot of basketball adversity yet,” Dillard said at a media event April 19. “… This weekend, we’re gonna talk a lot about basketball adversity because some of these guys may get a chance to go right in and play [in college], and some of these guys may not play a full game. Some of these guys have never ever dealt with that.”
For the most part, that’s true. Many of the players who display their talent at any high school tournament have enjoyed being the best, or at least one of the best, players on their team. That’s not to say everything has come easy — Lawrence Central High School’s Jake LaRavia, who’s committed to Indiana State, said his first couple of years in high school were a “struggle” — but most of these players will have to do a lot more waiting and learning than they did in high school.
Like most athletes, though, some of Team Indiana’s players said basketball has given them something more than just a sport to play.
“All these guys over here, I consider them my brothers,” said Brownsburg High School’s Cameron Alford, who’s committed to Alabama A&M University. “We all have a close relationship. I wouldn’t have that without basketball.”
Hankins said basketball afforded him the opportunity to travel across the country playing a game he loves and that the sport has helped him realize the responsibility he carries.
“Basketball has allowed me to become a better person, especially in the classroom and out in public,” Hankins said. “Playing basketball, I feel like it holds me to a higher standard than just the average person because I feel like I’m a role model to people that look up to me.”
Though not everyone has decided where they’ll play college basketball, it’s not for a lack of scholarship offers. Colleges and universities, many of them at the Division I level, want these players, who are excited to turn the page to that next chapter but also want to soak in what’s left of high school.
“The next step is gonna be a lot harder in college,” said Cathedral High School’s Armaan Franklin, who’s committed to Indiana University. “I’ve just got to cherish the rest of my high school moments really.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.