The first contest of the 2020-2021 Indiana boys basketball season tips off next week. While it’s set to be an unprecedented season like most other things this year, the quality of players and play in the Southern Indiana area remains unchanged.
Here is a list of what to look for from 10 of the top players from the area this upcoming season.
Tucker Biven and Kaden Stanton, New Albany
The Bulldogs lose much size from last year with Julien Hunter and Trey Hourigan now in college. As a result, they will rely more on its guard play, spreading the ball and shooting.
Coach Jim Shannon believes his junior backcourt in Biven and Stanton will take big strides in handling the pressure and leading the team.
“We’re certainly looking for more consistency because we know Tucker’s capable of big numbers,” Shannon said. “I don’t want him to feel like he needs to do that every night. I certainly would like for him to relish the role of him and Kaden being the two guys to go to. They’ve become stronger, quicker, more mature and playing well offensively.”
As for Stanton, look for him to play the combo guard, handling the ball but also shooting and attacking the basket.
“We’re looking for him to be much more of a vocal leader running the show for us out front and take control of the game,” Shannon said. “Let him flow into the offense and do the things that he needs to do whether it be taking 3s or penetrating and kicking or getting all the way to the rim. Leadership is the big key.”
Stanton, who has gotten stronger and more physical over the summer, noted he can get to the paint more with his physicality. Averaging nearly 13 points per game and shooting 39% from the 3-point line last year, Stanton will be more versatile in his offensive game.
“When they watch me, I’m going to give them a show,” Stanton said. “My shots come with the 3s a lot. I need to create more in the paint. I’m trying to work on being more crafty with my moves and trying to move around the paint and get open for shots.”
Dae’von Fuqua, Clarksville
Standing at about 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds, it’s sometimes a mystery how Fuqua still manages to penetrate against opponents a foot taller than he is and still finds ways to score. Last year, he led the team in points (16.4), rebounds, (5.2), assists (4.5) and steals (2.1).
“The first thing people will notice is that he’s about as quick of a reacting player as you’re going to see. He’s really natural and just reacts quickly,” Clarksville coach Brian McEwen said. “The next thing you’ll see is he’s really hard to keep him out of the lane. He looks little, but basketball wise, as strong as anybody on the court. Pound-for-pound and inch-for-inch, he’s as good as anyone else, and that’s saying a lot considering the players here.”
McEwen added the next step to expanding his game is further developing outside shooting. Fuqua shot 56% from the field last season, with just two of his made field goals being a 3-pointer. McEwen knows that his star player is capable of knocking them down, but it’s a matter of developing his confidence.
“He’s got the ability, it’s just a confidence thing,” McEwen said. “Teams guarding him are probably looking to back up and make him shoot it and keep him out of the lane, but it’s still hard to stop him.”
Jake Heidbreder, Floyd Central
The senior led the team last year to its first sectional title since 1989, while taking Class 4A No. 1 Bloomington South to overtime in a one-point loss and Class 3A Silver Creek to one-point game along the way. The season was canceled just before the Highlanders were set for a rematch with Bloomington South in the regionals.
Heidbreder was one of the players from the area that was hurt the most, recruiting-wise, by the pandemic as he had less of a chance to show off his much improved skills and carry the momentum (though you won’t hear him complain, and he’s very pleased with his commitment to Air Force).
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This year, look for him to be more of a vocal leader and guide the younger players on the roster to repeat as sectional champs and more.
“I used to lead by example. I just did my thing,” Heidbreder said. “I feel like now I’m leading by example, but also I’m trying to help my teammates more and get them more active and confident as well. It’s trying to get them more confident to make us a better team.”
Kooper Jacobi and Trey Kaufman, Silver Creek
There’s plenty to look forward to individually from this senior duo. Jacobi, who averaged 17.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last year, expanded his game even more over the offseason.
“Perimeter defense is a lot better. My 3-point shooting is better,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of lateral work and a lot of weights. Even during quarantine, I did a lot of quickness workouts at home, more than last year.”
Kaufman’s overall game already delights many fans, but expect to see much improved athleticism after working with a trainer during the offseason.
“Things that I like are different from what other people like,” Kaufman said. “I’m excited to see my deceleration and my ability to play defense and be able to contain guards and see my balance and how I’m able to do different things on the court. All of those things come from increase in athleticism.”
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How confident is he with his athleticism?
“Doing a between-the-leg dunk on a fast break this year would be something possible,” he said. “There’s pretty cool things athletically that I’ll be able to do this year that I couldn’t do last year.”
As a tandem, the two will be asked to lead the team again. It was the same situation last year when they were the longest tenured players on the team coming off a state title team in 2018. Now, as seniors, coach Brandon Hoffman said there may be “a sense of urgency” with so much uncertainty this year.
“Last year, they were phenomenal leaders already, passing down some of those qualities, work ethics and consistent day-to-day grind mentality to the younger players,” Hoffman said. “Everybody’s going to remember how great of players they were and great students in the classroom, what may be even as big of a legacy is they can pass down those traits and culture to the younger players.”
Will Lovings-Watts, Jeffersonville
Jeffersonville will be smaller in size, particularly with the departure of Tre Coleman to Nevada. The Red Devils will use much athleticism, shooting and speed this season, headlined by Lovings-Watts.
“Pull-up jump shots for sure,” he said of what fans should look for in his game this season. “I’ve been working on that a lot. I’m in the gym for hours to get my pull-ups perfected so when I get to the games, it comes easily. Both from outside and mid-range.”
Garnering interest from colleges like Louisville, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Tulsa and many more, his junior season will be critical in recruiting after AAU basketball was mostly wiped out. As the No. 1 option on the team, Lovings-Watts is poised for a breakout year.
Branden Northern, Silver Creek
Some may say that it’s easy to be the point guard when you have one of the best duos in Kaufman and Jacobi as teammates. The fact is, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
When the defense collapses on Kaufman and Jacobi, both have proven they’re more than capable of sharing the basketball. That’s when Northern comes into play with his drive and more shot attempts from beyond the arc.
“My jump shots improved a lot over the offseason. Last year, I was a driver, but this year, I’ll be able to shoot a lot better,” Northern said. “If people are going to give me space, I’ll take the jump shot. But if people are going to play up on me, I’ll drive right around them. They’re going to have to help, and that leaves Trey and Koop and other guys wide open.”
Brandon Rayzer-Moore, Jeffersonville
Adding more firepower to the Red Devils will be Rayzer-Moore, who transferred from Jeffersontown. He lives in the Jeffersonville area, went to school with many of his new teammates years ago and has been fitting in to the team smoothly.
The junior’s always been known for his shooting. Last year at Jeffersontown, he led the team, averaging 13.7 points per game, knocking down nearly half of his field-goal attempts.
“It’s been an easy transfer. I actually know a lot of people here. Everything’s been smooth,” he said. “My shooting. That’s what it’s always been. Everyone can shoot on our team very well.”
He said he’s also worked on his ballhandling over the offseason and will immediately be a big contributor to the team.
“He adds that offensive threat that can stretch the floor but also some length for us defensively,” Jeffersonville coach Andrew Grantz said.
Caleb Washington, Floyd Central
After spending much of last season in the paint, expect the 6-foot-5 sophomore to show off his range this year.
“My diversity of being able to step out on the wing and make a move and score or go into low post and scoring and try to guard the one through five,” Washington said. “I still have some work to do, but I improved greatly in those areas. I think you’ll see me more on the outside than you did last year.”
Floyd Central coach Todd Sturgeon said to expect how versatile Washington can be while shouldering more responsibilities.
“This year, he realizes we might need another weapon who can provide more as a perimeter player and taking people off the dribble more than you saw from him last year,” he said.
Don’t sleep on these guys: New Albany’s Jordan Thomas and Jackson Streander, Jeffersonville’s Kobe Stoudemire, Henryville’s Westin Allen, Clarksville’s Jaren Starks and Dakota Capps
Reach David J. Kim at DKim@courierjournal.com and follow him on Twitter at @_DavidJKim.