It’s been a funny year in boys hoops in the area. Picking this year’s Ink Free News All-Area team was a challenge as some of the area’s great scorers from a year ago, as well as their supporting casts, have moved on, leaving a new crop of players to develop and leave their marks. It’s taken some time, but those young men have started to step forward, and we sifted through the season’s accomplishments to build our Top 10.
In being transparent, any of the choices in our top five had great seasons, but also saw some growing pains and learning curves. Our choice for the IFN All-Area Player of the Year, Warsaw junior Nolan Groninger, hasn’t been as dominant on the court as say fellow Tiger POY choices Kyle Mangas or Paul Marandet, but he was the lead man for an unlikely NLC champion Warsaw team and does quite a bit the stat sheet doesn’t show. For that, Groninger gets the edge and is our 2017-18 Ink Free News Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
IFN First Team
Nolan Groninger, Warsaw – Groninger, who was primarily a JV player last year, stepped onto the big stage in a big way with a monster game at Tippecanoe Valley. From that night forward, he became the go-to figure for coach Doug Ogle’s squad. And for a club that was supposed to take a major step backwards after losing nine players from a regional team last year, Groninger helped lead the Tigers to a tie with Northridge atop the NLC standings, giving Warsaw it’s fourth consecutive conference championship.
Trevon Coleman, Wawasee – Wawasee has been up and down all season, but when it’s playing well, so is Trevon Coleman. The forward has carried much of the scoring responsibilities for the Warriors, scoring just over nine points per game – 25 percent of Wawasee’s total season output – and shoots 49 percent from the floor. At times, Coleman has been the feature in an NBA style two-man game when the matchups are right. Coleman’s steal and bucket put Wawasee over in the ultra-low-scoring win at Warsaw. Coleman also had 17 points and nine boards in an overtime NLC win against Goshen.
Ross Johnson, Triton – After losing the overwhelming majority of its scoring to graduation last spring, Triton had some very big vacancies to fill in its offense in 2017-18. Much of it has been filled by senior Warsaw transfer Ross Johnson. With his 17.1 points per game average, Johnson is averaging nearly half of the team’s total offense per night, and he’s proven he can give the Trojans buckets in a variety of ways. Head coach Jason Groves has posted him up and had him flashing through the middle, let him shoot the three and create off the dribble, and he’s scoring at a 54.5 percent field goal rate. The pressure he puts on defenses has translated into 132 trips to the free throw line, where he’s converted 88 of his attempts, and he can create for his teammates, too, with an average of 1.4 assists per game. The 6-3 swing is also good for a team-high 5.53 rebounds per night, as well as 1.52 steals a game.
Caleb Lung, NorthWood – NorthWood has been a pick-your-poison kind of a team in 2017-18, a team that shares the ball well, and, partly as a product of that, has typically gotten balanced contributions from a number of players every night. Who teams need to worry about on a given night is often variable, but senior forward Caleb Lung has found ways to give his team steady production on a night-to-night basis. The smooth, 6-3 front courter is averaging 14.7 points per game and providing another team-best seven rebounds for the Panthers. He closed out the regular season with 15 points and 11 rebounds in a 52-40 win over Oregon-Davis, the Panthers’ seventh straight win. And on the way to his nearly-15 points per night, Lung’s offensive efficiency has been off the charts — he’s converting his shots with 64 percent accuracy from the floor.
Josh McDaniel, LCA – While Lakeland Christian has had some great players come through the system over time, in the IHSAA era, none have been better than Josh McDaniel. He became just the sixth Cougar to score 1,000 points in a career, done on the Grace College floor during the Cougar Classic. He also holds the records for most three-pointers made in a career (195) and in a season, dropping 70 treys this year. McDaniel dropped 30 points in a bounce-back win against Trinity, and has scored at least 20 points 13 times this season. McDaniel has helped LCA to its largest win total in 13 years and the Cougars won the inaugural Hoosier Plains Conference championship, where he hung 32 on South Bend Career Academy in the clincher last week.
IFN Second Team
Brian Elliott, Warsaw – While Groninger netted our Player of the Year honors, the Tigers have also had a pretty good one-two in the front court between Brian Elliott and Zach Riley. Ellliott, who has earned himself a spot in Doug Ogle’s starting lineup as a sophomore, is listed at 6-5, and he leads the team in shot blocks and is chipping in a pair of rebounds per game for the Tigers, too. His offensive production has been steady in the latter half of the season, and he’s averaging 7.7 points per game at a 41 percent shooting clip but has shown he can pour it on as well, with 24 in a tough Northern Lakes Conference loss at Elkhart Memorial on Feb. 1. The lanky sophomore is a tough match-up between his height and length and an ability to step out and hit the three – he’s buried 34 treys this year, including an eye-opening eight in that outburst against Memorial.
Kaden Gongwer, NorthWood – NorthWood junior guard Kaden Gongwer can do a lot of things pretty well. He’s a heads-up ball-handler who can find the open teammate, a canny defender who can turn teams over, and a deadly long range shooter who can stretch a defense with the best of them. Gongwer averages 13 points per game, earned at a 46 percent clip from the field, including 39 percent accuracy from 3-point range, and he can go off if you let him, like he did during a 6-of-10 3-point shooting night against Elkhart Memorial on Feb. 12, a performance that netted him a game-high 21 points. But Gongwer’s game has multiple facets, and he’s averaging three assists per game – second only to senior Brad Delio – as well as two steals a night.
Jacob Hand, Wawasee – Perhaps one of the more unsung contributors on this list is Jacob Hand, a guard/forward combo for the Warriors. The senior does a little bit of everything for the Warriors, and has a knack for hitting big shots in big situations. His onions in the waning seconds of the Manchester game netted the game winner, and he hit a huge shot to help Wawasee go to overtime against Concord. Hand also had 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists in an overtime loss at Whitko. On the year, Hand averages seven points, four rebounds and three assists per game in a very workmanlike manner.
Zach Riley, Warsaw – Warsaw senior forward Zach Riley has been a relatively late bloomer, but since he started finding consistency in his numbers, the Tigers have looked like an entirely different team. Riley’s first double-digit outing of the season came in a win over Whitko back on Dec. 20, and he’s since put up double figures in eight of his team’s last 14 games, including a run of four straight beginning with 10 in a win over Elkhart Central on Jan. 27 and culminating with a game-high 19 points in a win over Plymouth Feb. 13 that clinched Warsaw an unlikely Northern Lakes Conference championship. Riley’s 12 rebounds opposite the Pilgrims was another game-high. The often undersized forward – listed at 6-2 on Maxpreps – is pacing his team in rebounding with 4.6 a night, and his toughness is also giving the Tigers an invaluable defensive asset inside.
Tanner Trippiedi, Tippecanoe Valley – Tanner Trippiedi does a whole lot for Tippecanoe Valley. A mere sophomore, Trippiedi runs the point for the Vikings, a natural position for the young player who also serves as the quarterback for Valley’s football team. It’s no surprise, then, that Trippiedi is leading his team in assists with 2.1 a game, but he’s also leading the team in scoring with an even 11 points per night with a pair of 20-point games this year – a 20-point outing against Knox back in early December and a 25-point performance in a Three Rivers Conference victory over North Miami earlier this month, not to mention his 19 points in a narrow loss to Northfield. Trippiedi’s stat lines on the defensive end also stand out as he’s pacing the Vikings in steals with 1.7 an outing, and his composure on the floor is something the team relies heavily on – he’s played in all 22 of Valley’s games this season and averaged nearly 28-and-a-half minutes a game while doing so.
IFN Honorable Mention
Jairus Boyer, Wawasee; Brad Delio, NorthWood; Caleb Glick, NorthWood; Tyler Metzinger, Warsaw; Cam Parker, Tippecanoe Valley; Landon Twombly, LCA