News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 31, 2008

Amey Takes Aim: Recapping the greatest four days in the history of high school basketball

By Andy Amey

TERRE HAUTE — High school basketball coaches and administrators have different wishes about 11 months from now, when pairings for the 2009 Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic are drawn.

Playing late in the day has always been the ideal. Former Terre Haute North coach Jim Jones seemed to get the 8:30 p.m. game every season, which he loved because it enabled his team to have a shootaround before its game.

Now, however, the 10 a.m. game is looking better and better — because for that game, your fans will probably be able to find a place to park. Maybe next winter fans heading to Terre Haute North can set out furniture or kitchen appliances for “dibs” on parking spots, the way it’s done in Chicago on snowy, congested streets.

This year’s Classic at Terre Haute South had its biggest crowds ever, it’s first-ever requests for fans to leave the gym so the teeming masses in the lobby might have a place to sit — my suggestion was, and still is, some kind of auction; I’ll leave the gym and this seat for this amount of money, some of it going to the host school of course — and, as confirmed by Classic historian Brian Mancuso, its first counterfeit tickets and its first marriage proposal. More on those later.

A lot of people also say the games were the best the Classic has ever had. I think that’s inadequate.

Until somebody can show me evidence to the contrary, I’m saying it was the best four days of high school basketball in the history of the world. There were at least nine games that somebody might call the best one they’ve ever seen, and the folks in Marshall will be willing to add three more to that list.

I’m writing this before talking to Pizza Hut exec and tournament director Gary Fears about the groundswell of opinion about moving to a bigger facility, but I think I know what he’s going to say.

One, this year was probably the perfect storm in terms of outstanding teams whose fans turned out in force.

Two, having fans needing to practically fight their way into the gym — like sectionals us old folks remember — is exactly what Gary had in mind. His baby is all grown up.

No further evidence of the latter fact is needed than the ticket “scandal.” When people are trying to enter your event illegally, you must be putting on a good show.

And a lot of the show is about more than basketball. For example:

• Romance — Linton coach Darren Clayton is one of the nicest guys in the business, but I’ve never thought of him as a hopeless romantic. Until now.

But the first day of the Classic was also the second anniversary of his relationship with Kim Frederick. In the bleachers at South, each of his 10 players presented her with a rose — “I wanted to make the kids a part of it,” he said — and he completed the dozen with two roses of his own, plus the unexpected question.

• Reunions — The four days of basketball is also turning into a time for the Wabash Valley to see old friends and make new ones. It’s where I get to see my friend Amelia Walker every year, for example.

It’s also time for former players to come back and hang around the gym, this year’s crowd including Armon Bassett, Nate Blank, Jeremy and Seth Harrold, Toby Stephens, Drew Aff, Cogan Keith, Jared Modesitt, Les Miller, Matt Myers, Kyle McFadden and Shay Stephens, among others. Which leads us to …

• Wardrobe envy — On the first day of the Classic, Armon was wearing an urban-script Cubs jacket; I’m advising him, for his own good, not to leave that lying around where I might happen to pick it up. I’d say that same thing for the Matt Forte jersey the son of Sullivan principal Chris Stitzle was wearing, but I’m not sure it would fit me.

• The usual spot — Despite the crowd, I saw Clyde Funkhouser at his usual perch in the South gym for awhile, although I think he got moved later in the tournament. Not so Lew Drake, who watched his annual 28 games at the top of the bleachers.

• The usual treat — It’s great to have fans, and not the one like Terry the janitor tried to give me. Once again I got some extremely good homemade candy from my favorite couple of South supporters.

• The kids — Again this season freshman players made names for themselves in less than a week. Marshall’s Jacob Duncan was a huge reason that his team won the championship, but what do you say about Sullivan’s Rhett Smith, or Riverton Parke’s Cody Vauters, or West Vigo’s Jordan Houser or Cody Thornton? Virtually every roster had a ninth-grader or two or three ready to make a contribution.

• Funniest moments — Ordinarily, coach Joe Boehler’s admonition to the Vikings of “layups only,” followed approximately one second later by Houser burying a 3-pointer against Sullivan, would be a winner.

But that pales by comparison to Rockville’s David Parsons — a player oblivious to pressure — who, after hitting two baskets in a row during a game against Marshall that had all but one person in the gym tensed up, got trapped along the baseline and tried to escape by shooting. Over the backboard. From behind it.

• Separated at birth? I wouldn’t go so far as to say they look all that much alike, but their size, their styles of play and their roles for their respective teams are virtually identical.

No, I’m not talking about Jake Odum of South and Tyler Wampler of West Vigo. This reference is to Mitch Snyder of Casey and Josh Wilson of Riverton Parke.

• Who wins? The team that may have grown the most from its participation the last few days is probably South Vermillion, although Linton is in the discussion too.

But maybe it’s Marshall that has gained the most. The Lions have won a lot of games the last couple of years with dazzling offensive displays, and had one of those in the championship game. But they got to the final game with grit and defense, and that kind of play is a lot more reliable in the postseason.

“Our defense is progressing every game,” said Trey Brashear, one of the reasons for that, after the championship game.

• • •

• No toppings on this one — In a non-Pizza Hut item, Darcy Dorton of Delta, who will play next fall at Penn State, is Gatorade’s Indiana Volleyball Player of the Year.



Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. for comments or news items at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at andy.amey@tribstar.com; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.