Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 6, 2013

Crawford leads KT Boys All-Area team

By Pedro Velazco
Tribune sportswriter

— Tipton senior wing Mike Crawford scored 775 points, this season. Blue Devil fans will miss the electric nights where Crawford seemed unstoppable.

Rival coaches, not so much.

Tipton coach Brad Dickey has been on the sidelines for Crawford’s career and summed up what opposing coaches deal with.

“He’s hard to prepare for, hard to play against,” Dickey explained. “Even when you feel you know what’s going on, it doesn’t mean you can stop it.”

That’s why Crawford was so effective as a senior. Knowing what he’ll do — shoot 3-pointers, drive, especially to his left, score from mid-range, and rebound — doesn’t always help.

Crawford averaged an area-best 27.7 points, as well as 8.9 rebounds in snagging the MVP of the 50th annual Kokomo Tribune All-Area Boys Basketball Team. He repeats atop the honor squad after sharing the honor with Kokomo’s D.J. Balentine last season.

“He’s got a lot of natural ability, but he also earned the right to be good,” Dickey said. “He took advantage of his skills and he put the work in, and his teammates appreciated that. He’s just deserving.”

A 6-foot-5 senior, Crawford blended a small forward’s height and directness with guard skills to become a scoring force.

“He had a great knack for scoring the basketball, and especially in big games,” said Dickey. “He absolutely dominated play against our best opponents. Case in point: Westfield, he’s got 43; Kokomo, he’s got 35; he scores 40 on Bowman a couple times [semistate this season and last season]. He really rose to the occasion when the competition was at its best.”

Dickey said that Crawford has a “great will” that shows up in tough situations like scoring rebound hoops.

Crawford helped Tipton to sectional and regional titles as a sophomore, junior and senior. He finished his Blue Devil career as the program’s all-time leading scorer, and played in the most wins.

“I think his record speaks for itself,”  Dickey said. “He had 92 wins in his career, scored over 2,000 points, and did things the right way on the court. [He’s a] great team player, led us in rebounding for the last three seasons and an awesome kid in the classroom and weight room and the lockerroom.”

Crawford, a Saint Louis University recruit, finished third in Mr. Basketball voting.

Crawford is a three-time selection to the all-area team. Kokomo’s Tayler Persons and LaBradford Sebree, and Northwestern’s Trenton Brazel are two-time selections.

The following are looks at the rest of the 2013 all-area team. Players are listed in alphabetical order within their respective teams.

FIRST TEAM

Trenton Brazel, Northwestern

As a senior, Brazel became the focal point of Northwestern’s offense. He can handle the ball, shoot and post, but his bread-and-butter were his grinding drives. Defenders had trouble keeping in front of him, and had trouble not fouling him once he lowered his shoulder and turned toward the hoop.

Brazel averaged 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists; 117 of his points came on free throws alone.

“Trenton was our leader in every aspect of the game,” NW coach Jim Gish said. “He was our emotional, our physical, and our mental leader. He was the one we leaned on, to not only put us in position to win basketball games but also to bring our young, inexperienced players along and allow them to have success within the game, because he knows very well one guy doesn’t win the game.

“I think one thing that should be noted about Trenton is he never took a step back in his career. Every single game he progressed. He went from a young man earlier in his career who was somewhere on the scouting report to a senior that was on the top of the scouting report.”

Blake Hoover, Tipton

A cat-quick point guard, the senior mixed sticky defense, driving prowess and clutch shooting to help the Blue Devils win sectional and regional titles. He averaged 10.6 points and led the team with 4 apg.

“To see him have such great improvement over the last couple seasons, his leadership, has been fantastic,” Dickey said. “He was very helpful to all of his teammates. As his ballhandling improved, his confidence and leadership improved too. It was a great thing for him to have such a productive senior season.”

Hoover’s late triple lifted Tipton to a 57-56 overtime victory over Kokomo in January.

“Blake was another big shot maker,” Dickey said. “He had some awesome highlights this season, none bigger than beating Kokomo off a dribble pull-up from 3-point land. He really helped our freshman point guard this year [Mason Degenkolb] to develop, and for a couple seasons now he’s been a real trump-card defender, where he could really put the locks down on a dribbler or a shooter.”

Tayler Persons, Kokomo

Persons flourished with a bigger workload as a junior, leading Kokomo in scoring (17.4), assists (4) and steals (2.9) while becoming the emotional heartbeat of the Kats. A natural point guard, Persons is like many of his recent Kat predecessors in that he’s a guard who is comfortable scoring and rebounding in the paint, and can defend on the frontline.

“He’s so physically and mentally tough,” Kokomo coach Brian McCauley said. “Every game, he really brought his scoring and his defensive toughness, and rebounding [5.7 rpg].

“His will to win ... set the tone for our team and rubbed off on our team. Several times he was able to help our team get over the top and get the win. He gives that edge in several of the close games. [He’s] just another tough player physically and mentally and provided a lot of leadership, just like LaBradford, for our team.”

LaBradford Sebree, Kokomo

The Wildkat guard/forward scored 381 points (15.2 ppg) and snagged 81 rebounds as a senior. There were big plays and big moments scattered all around. Here’s one. It encapsulates the kind of player Sebree was.

In a home game against Richmond that was one of the most physical games likely seen in the area, the Kats and Red Devils were entwined in an air-tight grinder in the third quarter. A teammate put up a contested 3-pointer that was destined to fall away as an air ball. Sebree carved out what open space he could on the left side right under the backboard, snagged the air ball, leaned back to make space and forced in a rebound hoop as he was fouled.

Sebree turned his eyes up toward the top of the stands, suppressed a smile, and held his gaze high as he walked to the free throw line. Excited teammates mobbed him.

Poised. Determined. Relentless.

Kokomo went on to win and complete a perfect run in the North Central Conference for just the second time in program history.

“Every game he’s so physically strong, and he also was emotionally very stable, I think that’s why he was able to hit so many big shots throughout the course of his career,” McCauley said. “Every game you knew you were going to get 10-20 points from him and 3-5 rebounds and 3-4 steals a game. That’s easy to take for granted but he brought that every game.

“He had a phenomenal season for us. He did it all. He scored for us, he defended really well, he rebounded well for us, just a great, great leader for our team and has a lot of toughness about him physically and mentally. He’s one of the best players ever to play for Kokomo High School and did a great job of making our program a championship program the last four years.”

SECOND TEAM

Erik Bowen, Kokomo

When Erik Bowen needs to get his offense going, he has a pet spot on the floor. A little jumper from the free throw line is what he could rely on to get his game moving, and the Kats were able to rely on the junior post player to solidify their play. Bowen led Kokomo in rebounding at 6.2 rpg and developed into a consistent scoring option at 9.7 ppg.

“He led our team in rebounding and was an integral part of our defensive game plan,” McCauley said. “Our team was very, very good this season. We had the lowest defensive scoring average for a Kokomo team in the last 16 years and LaBradford, Tayler and Erik were three huge reasons we were able to be so good defensively.

“Erik did a great job of playing multiple positions, whether it was inside or on the perimeter, and did a good job of rebounding and giving us size presence.”

Austin Keisling, Cass

Moving between the point guard and the shooting guard depending on need, the speedy junior elevated his game, scoring 16.2 points per game as the most consistent player on the Kings’ squad.

“Probably the thing that he brings most is that he can put pressure on defenses,” Cass coach Jon Kitchel said. “He’s really good at attacking the basket and getting into the paint, and he can finish when he gets in there. He can do that on halfcourt, and he can do that on fullcourt, on fastbreaks, as well.

“For his size [5-10], he’s a really good leaper and he boards. Especially on the offensive end he did a good job on rebounding; good passer, just a real steady player.”

Micah Pier, Maconaquah

The 6-foot-10 center rebounded from a second torn ACL to have a standout senior season. Using a smooth touch in the post and from the free-throw line, Pier led the team with a 16.9 scoring average, shot 62.9 percent from the field, 91.2 from the line, and snagged 6.7 rebounds per game.

“He was that guy who showed up every day and played as hard as he could,” Mac coach Andy Steele said. “Being 6-10, we tried, especially defensively, to keep him by the rim as much as possible. He didn’t have to block every shot, but he altered a lot of shots and got key rebounds for us. Offensively, he was one of our best shooters, so it didn’t hurt for him to go out to 15 feet and shoot from there.

“He was a lot stronger this year than he was last year so he was able to push his way to the rim offensively, he was able to push guys off the block as well [defensively.]”

Logan Primerano, Peru

Two years from now, Bengal opponents will be really, really sick of the name Primerano. Last season he replaced graduated elder brother Luke in the Bengal Tiger lineup. Now, the spitting image of the elder sibling is showing a game that he can make his own name with.

Now a sophomore, Primerano led Peru at 15 ppg and added 6.1 rpg. He excelled at putting pressure on opponents by taking defensive rebounds and going coast-to-coast.

“This year, we asked a lot of Logan, especially being a sophomore, having him play the point and also expecting him to be able to score 15-20 a night too,” Peru coach Jim Metcalfe said. “I thought he handled it pretty well and did a great job. The one thing with Logan is he plays extremely hard.

“He always wants the ball in his hands. You don’t see too many sophomores who play with the confidence he plays with every night. When there’s a big shot that needs to be taken or a play that needs to be made, he’s the one who wants to do it. He plays with that confidence.”

Evan Warden, Western

The combo guard took on more responsibility as a junior, leading the Panthers in scoring (13.8 ppg) while adding 2.9 assists. The junior Panther is at his best when the action is physical — whether hitting his trademark hard-charging drives despite contact, or grinding an opponent defensively.

“Evan’s just a great competitor, hates to lose and wants to do everything in his power to win the game and everything in his power to help his teammates,” Western coach Bart Miller said.

“His role offensively was to put himself and his teammates to where we could score. His knowledge of when to take the shot and when to kick it to a teammate was very good for us this year. He was able to take it to the basket when he needed to, and also knew the right time to pull up and take the outside shot.”

THIRD TEAM

Des Balentine, Western

After seeing a few minutes as a freshman, Balentine moved into a starting role as a sophomore and quickly developed into a key player, blending good shooting and driving with a sharp sense of how to slice into defenses with the pass. Balentine averaged 12.1 points and led Western with 3.6 assists per game.

“Des jumped up tremendously as far as his level of play this year,” Bart Miller said. “His knowledge of the game exceeds his age. He has the ability to take over a game, but at the same time he doesn’t do that when it’s not necessary.

“Des’ vision of the floor is phenomenal for his age. He sees the floor and knows where the ball needs to go. He’s also a very good scorer. He can knock down the outside shot, get to the bucket, uses his body very well to protect the ball and get it up to the rim.”

Chase Johnson, Northwestern

The senior used his 6-7 size and athleticism to maximum efficiency. Offensively, he was adept at getting in position for good shots deep in the paint, and defensively he blocked 33 shots, and disrupted others. He excelled on the glass on both ends.

Johnson averaged 11.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and hit 56.7 percent from the field.

“Chase this year, I thought from Christmas on, took his game to a whole other level,” Gish said.

He explained that Johnson asked the coaches where he needed to improve, then took off.

“Chase took the initiative in the game to use his size and length and willed himself to be a better basketball player. He did that on the offensive end, to have a great tough around the basket — and he can finish with contact,” Gish said, noting that he also got sharper defensively and on the glass. “[Johnson] just became a huge asset to our basketball team.”

Josiah Marx, Eastern

The active forward put up a huge senior season, nearly tripling his scoring average to 17.1 and more than doubling his rebounding average to post 9.4 rpg as he was Eastern’s main threat.

“Early on, with the absence of [graduated] Joe Price from last year, we needed somebody to fill a void there offensively and defensively too, and I thought Josiah did a great job of stepping into that role,” Eastern coach Kyle Bedwell said. “That surprised some teams. Later on, even as teams knew that [Marx] was our biggest threat, he still found ways to score.

“He never questioned what we wanted him to do, he went out and did it. Defensively, I thought he was our best help-side defender. He was facing bigger guys and found a way to score. A good problem solver and good athlete in general and a real good kid.”

Eric Miller, Carroll

A 6-7 senior, Miller operated inside and outside, giving the Cougars a slice of dynamism to help make an unusually tall team more effective instead of one-dimensional. He led Carroll in scoring at 12.5 ppg, tied for the lead in rebounding at 5.1 rpg, and dished out a team-best 54 assists.

“He was really crucial in every part of the game,” Carroll coach Matt Weaver said. “Depending on the matchup, we could use him inside. If he had a bigger guy on him, a little bit slower, he could take him out to the wing as well. He could really get hot from the 3[-point line].

“It was really important because obviously we had a lot of guys with a lot of size and not all those guys had the ability Eric did to step out on the perimeter and make plays and pass the way he did, which allowed those other guys to go inside and play their natural position.”

Austin Townsend, Western

A bit player previously, Townsend blossomed as a senior. He combined an uncanny scoring touch in traffic with tenacious interior work to post a breakthrough campaign, averaging 10.4 points and a team-high 9.6 rebounds.

“You could see in the summer that he was driven and he wanted to succeed, but he also wanted the team to succeed, which is a great thing to see as a coach,” Bart Miller said.

“[Townsend] just did anything and everything that he could to drive this team to wins, led us in rebounds with over 200 rebounds this year, averaged double digits points-wise; just did an outstanding job leading the entire team and the younger guys, and showing them not only with words but with his actions as to how to play the game.”