2020 'Pick 6' Renegade Boys Basketball Final Poll
... and a Look Ahead to 2021

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith


It's often easier to to express concern, indifference or dislike for someone than it is to simply say that you miss them. Of all the things that 'used to be' in the pandemic world we all now live in, the losses that I'm surprised that I miss the most are the large buildings full of other people's children, which have sat empty and quiet for most of 2020. (Photo by Mark Smith)

CHESTERTON (7-1-2020) The year 2020-2021 is supposed to be a good one. At least 10 Northwest Indiana teams have their leading scorer returning.

Munster’s Luke Balac (17.0 ppg.), Bowman’s Koron Davis (22.9 ppg.), Lowell’s Chris Mantis (24.8 ppg.), Michigan City’s Jamie Hodges (15.2 ppg), Washington Township’s Austin Darnell; (19.5ppg.) and Kouts’
Cole Wireman (25.2 ppg,.) all have eligibility left. Lake Central’s got the ex-Andrean star Kyle Ross and Andrean has multi-sports star Nick Flesher for another year.

Now for the bad news.

There may not be a ‘20-‘21 season.

The only thing I’m certain of is:

The COVID-19 virus shut down the ’19-’20 season after the sectionals and the virus is still with us. Certainly, high schools in Indiana and everywhere else will attempt to have in-school classes and extra curricular activities. But as soon as one kid tests positive for the virus, what happens? And if six kids catch the virus, what happens then? The idea of 500-1,000 kids in the same building and none testing positive for a virus for which we have no cure, few treatment methods and no vaccine is a plan that may not last long.

When outdoor events everywhere from Pierogi Fest in Whiting to the Lake County and Porter County fairs are canceled in fear of large outdoor gatherings, how can we have large indoor (basketball games) gatherings?

Everyone wearing a mask, Nobody sitting together.

No one is going to like it.

Far fewer folks will attend.

And you aren’t going to stay virus-free.

Health risks aside, these are the dark days for sports programs because basketball and football obviously help pay for all of the other high school sports. The cancellation of baseball, softball and track last spring hurt the kids involved, but it didn’t affect football and basketball. The potential cancellation of basketball and football hurts the entire athletic department. Playing games but limiting fans with social distancing also creates cash flow issues. In a time of economic problems everywhere, high school sports programs can't expect as much outside help from fundraisers.

Want a radical idea?

I wonder about the feasibility of moving the entire high school football season to the spring of 2021 when the virus could be under more control. When potentially, a vaccine could be available for players and coaches and attendance could be unlimited. Spring sports do not play on Friday night when all football games are traditionally played. The entire state would have to agree, but is there a reason ‘spring football’ is not possible?

The start of basketball could be pushed back until January, again hoping for a virus vaccine or cure. Soccer, which exists in the fall in Indiana, could and should be a spring sport anyway.

These are contingency plans.

Professional football, basketball, baseball and soccer are having virus safety issues. Everyone is going to try to have high school and high school sports, but I’m certain that many are coming up with a ‘Plan B’ (and maybe Plan C and Plan D) — just in case.

If we do play, here six teams to watch. Again, not the six best for 2021, in my mind. Just six teams that will be very excited to get on the floor, whenever fate and the future allows them to.

1. (4A) Gary West Side
2020 (12-9), 2019 (16-8), 2018 (13-10)

GARY: The ‘Side’ returns one young man who did play last year and one who didn’t. The ‘player’ was guard Quinmari Peterson, who averaged 16 points, three assists and two steals for the Cougars last year. The one boy who didn’t play was 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward Jalen Washington, an all-state candidate who tore his ACL and missed the entire year. To be accurate, Washington has missed almost two full seasons due to injury. I’ve never actually seen him play. But those who have say that I need to. Washington, who will be a junior for the 2020-2021 school year, is the number one ranked high school player in the state of Indiana and I do not remember the last Northwest Indiana player who was rated that highly. Jalen Washington is the ‘player to watch’ in the upcoming season. I hope we get to. Nobody told me, but I don’t think Gary West Side will exist much longer as a high school.

2. (4A) Merrillville
2020 (12-12), 2019 (11-13), 2018 (18-8)

MERRILLVILLE: Merrillville will not be the second best team in Northwest Indiana by the time we get to 2021. But they will have the second best player. Keon Thompson averaged an outrageous 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Pirates last season, a shocking number when you consider the schedule Merrillville faces. Thompson, a hand-driving, angry player, scored a Merrillville record 52 points against Portage on Jan 24. The Pirates graduated just one player off their varsity roster. Everybody is back. Admittedly, everyone is back off a .500 team, but that’s a big open window for a team that won the Class 4A Sectional 1 title with upset wins over rivals Munster and Lake Central. Merrillville has to be more precise late in games. They lost eight times by six points or less. But the Pirates have more experience coming back than anyone in this area. They will be the favorite in the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC).

3. (4A) Hammond
2020 (16-4), 2019 (18-8), 2018 (19-6), 2017 (15-10)

HAMMOND: It will be the dawn of a new day for Hammond high in 2021. The four Hammond public schools (Hammond, Morton, Gavit and Clark) will consolidate after this school year and just Morton and Hammond will remain. I’m going to guess that the new Hammond high will be a 4A school and 4A is the major leagues. In 2022, Hammond will most likely need to beat Lake Central and Munster just to get out of the sectional. That’s a hard ride down a dusty road.

So 2021 is the target year.

Hammond returns 6-foot-7 forward Darnell Reed, who averaged 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. 6-foot-3 guard Harold Woods averaged 16 points and seven rebounds on a team that won its sectional for the third year in a row. This will likely be Hammond’s final year in Class 3A where they will be a major favorite in sectional and regional play. The future is most definitely now, because ‘tomorrow’ is not clear.

4. (4A) Chesterton
2020 (23-3), 2019 (19-7), 2017 (21-4)

CHESTERTON: The Trojans graduate three seniors from the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) champs, but point guard Travis Grayson (13.3 points per game) returns. As do 10 Class of ’21 seniors, including 6-foot-2 Sean Elliott, 6-foot-5 Tyler Vanderwoude and 6-foot-2 guard Luke Lombardi, all of whom played regular roles last season. There is a lot of depth here and Grayson is a strong two-way point guard. The coming season will be a strong one in conference play. Merrillville, Valparaiso, Crown Point, Michigan City. Any of them could finish in first place. But quietly, Chesterton has won 63 games in the last three years, more than anyone else in the DAC. The Trojans will be one of the top favorites to win the 2021 DAC championship.

5. (4A) Crown Point
2020 (12-12), 2019 (14-9), 2018 (11-13)

CROWN POINT: Similar to Merrillville, Crown Point is .500 team that returns most of its starting lineup. Guards Ty Smith (16.8 points per game), Drew Adzia (7.5), and 6-foot-4 forward David Brown (7.1) all return after playing in all 24 games. Jake Oostman, a 6-foot-6 forward, played in all 24 games, averaged 5.5 points a game and shot 71% from the floor. He’ll be back for his senior year. Many DAC teams have starting guards returning and CP is well-stocked there with Smith and Adzia. CP will have good size and depth coming up from the junior varsity. I’m not sure CP wins the DAC in 2021, but they have a good shot at Class 4A Sectional 2.

6. (3A) Hanover Central
2020 (24-2), 2019 (17-9), 2018 (16-7)

CEDAR LAKE: A school-record 24 wins for Hanover and the school’s third sectional. But no shot at Hammond high in the regional. The game never got played. Can they get back to the regional in 2021?


Center Landon Babusiak (11 ppg.), at 6-foot-9, gives the Wildcats a defensive anchor that most teams just do not have. 6-foot-4 forward Joey Glidewell (9.5 ppg.) and 6-foot-2 guard Kameron Ludwig (7.1 ppg.) should be starters. Nate Holden (4.3 ppg.) was 15 of 36 on 3s even though he played 10 or 11 minutes a game. Freshman Josh Austgen got 100 varsity minutes at guard,  which means somebody thinks he can play, too.

Class 3A is the ‘yellow brick road’ out of Northwest Indiana as far as sectional basketball is concerned. As long as charter school powers Bowman (2A) and 21st Century (1A) play in classes where they overmatch the opposition, 3A is the place to be. Hanover is still young enough to have a two-year window of opportunity, especially if Hammond consolidates up to 4A. But with Hanover hosting 3A Sectional 18 in 2021, that window is wide open right now.

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Revised: June 29, 2020 .