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As we prepare to watch the IHSAA boys basketball state finals this weekend without a representative from the area for the third time in the last five years, it would be easy to write a column bemoaning that fact and wondering why area teams struggle to get to Indianapolis.
Instead, I will focus on the positives of this season, highlighting some of the best area individuals, teams and games.
I just wish I was doing this column a week from now.
Best game: North Side 54, Snider 51 in SAC Tournament championship
Why: In terms of intrigue and excitement in a game between two area teams, nothing tops this one in late December.
North Side entered this game undefeated and looking for its first SAC Tournament crown since 2006, but Snider gave the Redskins their first tough game of the season.
The Panthers were able to slow the game down significantly and limit North Side to just 5 of 23 from three-point range. The Redskins never really looked comfortable as the contest went back and forth.
With the game tied at 51 with less than a minute left, North Side ate up the final 48 seconds before Oosha Mitchell threw up a turnaround, fadeaway three-point at the buzzer. The shot that looked like a prayer connected, sending North Side players and fans into a frenzy and leaving Snider fans dumbfounded.
Honorable mention: Leo-New Haven double-overtime thriller, Bishop Dwenger vs. Bishop Luers in January, Homestead vs. Hamilton Southeastern in Marion Regional final.
Most underrated player: Levi Mitchell, Wayne
Why: It seems like Levi Mitchell is always the “throw-in” when talking about brother Justin Mitchell. Even us media folk are guilty of it when speaking of “Justin Mitchell and his two brothers,” never giving Levi and Jescus much recognition.
But make no mistake, Levi Mitchell would have started on just about every team in the area this season. He went about his business as one of the "other" Mitchells without a complaint or a cry for recognition. He averaged 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds for the Generals while dishing out 2.4 assists per contest.
Levi Mitchell dropped 30 on Bishop Luers in late January and was exceptional in the sectional defeat to Homestead, hitting some acrobatic three-pointers that had Spartans coach Chris Johnson shaking his head.
Honorable mention: Jordan Hogue, New Haven; Joe Ault, Homestead; Kyle Hartman, Bishop Dwenger; Trey'Von Covington, Snider.
Coach of the Year: Shabaz Khaliq, North Side
Why: Many people will think this is an easy pick because of the talent the Redskins had this season, but the job of getting a lot of talent in the inner city to mesh together is a huge undertaking.
Khaliq made it look easy as he led North Side to a 24-2 record and SAC Tournament, regular season and sectional championships.
Khaliq recognizes that he is not the most well-liked coach in the area by his peers, but one thing his colleagues cannot deny is the way he toes that fine line between garnering the respect of his players while also getting along with them. It sounds easy, but it is not when it comes to coaching in urban areas. Many have failed to properly toe that line and have lost the respect of players and, in turn, lost control of the program.
Khaliq makes it look easy.
Honorable mention: Chris Johnson, Homestead; Dave Randall, Woodlan; Al Gooden, New Haven.
Breakout Player of the Year: Tyrell Johnson, Bishop Luers
Why: All we heard throughout the preseason and even once games began were questions about how the Knights would possibly survive without the Blackmon trio.
Well, they survived and at times excelled with a young but energetic squad under coach J.J. Foster. Foster's son J.J. earned plenty of media attention as arguably the best freshman in the area this year, but it was Johnson who really burst onto the scene as a prolific player.
The junior guard was Bishop Luers' leading scorer at just over 14 points per game while also adding 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
He seemed to be all over the court in the victory over Bishop Dwenger in January, where he scored 20 points. He scored 22 against Wayne and 27 against North Side in a pair of games in late January, showcasing his ability to get up and down the floor quickly and to finish around the hoop.
Johnson should be one of the best seniors in the SAC next season.
Honorable mention: Enis Becirevic, Northrop; Dana Batt, Homestead; Jailan Wattley, New Haven.
Clutch performance: Carroll's Chandler White vs. Marion in Carroll Shootout
Why: Wherever Marion went this season, the traveling circus surrounding the basketball program followed thanks to the resurgence under James Blackmon Sr. with sons James Jr. and Vijay.
That was the case in late December when the Giants came to town for the Carroll Shootout. The Chargers won three times to earn a spot in the final against Marion, with White and Blackmon Jr. putting on a show.
Blackmon Jr. was his usual self, hitting long threes and making the incredible look average. But the real story was White, who matched Blackmon Jr. shot for shot as Carroll pulled out the 67-61 victory.
The third quarter was the showcase for the duo, with each hitting four three-pointers and trading buckets.
Blackmon Jr. finished with 27 points, but White scored 24 to lead the Chargers to victory and show that when he is on, he is capable of being pretty special.
Honorable mention: Caleb Swanigan vs. Hamilton Southeastern; J.J. Foster vs. Bishop Dwenger in upset win; Justin Mitchell vs. Snider in regular season.
Biggest surprise team: Woodlan
Why: The Warriors (18-7) ended a skid of 15 straight losing seasons.
While that run certainly included many forgettable moments, this year had several that will be remembered for a long time. From an ACAC Tournament championship to the team's first regular-season conference championship since 2007, Woodlan shattered the perception that it was a pushover program.
From Greg White to Jaylin Bennett to Kadin Gerig, the Warriors were led by players who were dangerous at both ends of the floor.
Woodlan also captured its first sectional championship since 1997, further cementing the Warriors back in the upper echelon of the ACAC.
Honorable mention: New Haven, Blackhawk Christian.