News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 3, 2012

AMEY TAKES AIM: The biggest & baddest of a holiday classic

Smallest players steal the show at TH North

Andy Amey
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — There are more things to love about the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic than could fit in this newspaper, but one of this year’s best things was that for an hour or so on Wednesday, it was Justin Paddock’s world and we were just living in it.

Justin, for those of you who don’t know him, is a freshman basketball player at Turkey Run. When you watch him warm up before the game you aren’t surprised by the freshman part, because Justin isn’t very tall (5-foot-3 seems to be the official height) and is very (sorry dude, I can’t avoid this description) cute.

He saw action at the end of all three of the Warrior games, but on Wednesday in the waning seconds against Terre Haute South he launched a 25-footer — and buried it. The cheers that followed might have been as loud as the tournament got until the championship game din between Terre Haute North and Sullivan, and North’s fans — who were in place to see their team play later, and who were seated next to the Turkey Run cheering section — adopted him immediately, to the point of serenading him (JUST-in PADD-ock, JUST-in PADD-ock) when he emerged from the locker room about a half hour after the game (which required a little research, since his name wasn’t in the program). Autographs were sought, I’m told.

If that was my favorite moment of this year’s tournament, however, it wasn’t my favorite play. This happened with 17 seconds left in Tuesday’s first-round game between Linton and Monrovia.

If you have your list of scores handy, you’ll realize Linton was leading by 30 points at the time. But when a ball got loose on the court, six players hit the floor going for it. Kudos to coaches Joey Hart and Chris Sampson for teaching their players how to compete.

Here are a couple of other oddities I noticed last week.

• Best fans, part one — He’s not Lew Drake yet (my former son-in-law’s father has seen more minutes of PHWVC basketball than any other paying fan, I’m willing to bet) but Rockville’s Joel Wittenmyer, for the second year in a row, was around quite a bit.

I arrived before 10 a.m. Tuesday, and Joel was in the stands when I got there (Rockville’s game was at 2:30 p.m.).

Before that game was over, the Sullivan fans were streaming in (they played Rockville, remember), and during the second game that day I saw some Northview people (the Knights were going to play at 8:30 p.m.).

• Best fans, part two — There were several big contingents of adult fans at the tournament, Shakamak and Rockville being particularly noticeable to me. But the folks from Sullivan and Marshall actually know their team’s cheers and yell right along with the cheerleaders.

(I mention this point out that, despite what at least one school seems to believe, it is not illegal for cheerleaders to actually lead cheers.)

Student fans? North’s Woelf Pack isn’t always polite or as clever as they think they are, but I give them props for being loud and well organized.

• Best sideline coaching — Early in the Wednesday game between Linton and Marshall (when the Lions were without leading scorer Logan Cannady), Marshall’s Walker Berner passed up a shot in the corner. Walker can stroke it (he is left-handed, after all), and coach Tom Brannan yelled out “Don’t be afraid to shoot it.” By the time the words were out of his mouth, however, the Lions had reversed the ball to the other corner to 6-5 Taylor Maurer. “Not you,” Brannan continued, not quite as loudly.

Maurer, of course, drained the 3-pointer he wasn’t supposed to take and added two more of them before the first quarter was over.

• Just lob it up there near the basket — With less than a second left before the end of a quarter in a Thursday game between Linton and Casey, Linton’s Sam Dyar was throwing an in-bounds pass from midcourt. Linton’s frontline, remember, includes 6-8 Austin Karazsia and 6-5 Dess Fougerousse, so the plan was to attempt an alley-oop pass.

Of course Dyar banked it in.

(And if you think an awful lot of unusual plays seem to happen when the Miners are playing, you are not alone.)

• Longest eight minutes of basketball in recorded history — Same game, Miners trailing, Hart trying to extend the game. Here are some stats for you: 13 of 30 field goal attempts, 21 of 45 free throw attempts, 26 personal fouls.

In the fourth quarter.

And now some awards:

• Best game — That 2:30 contest on the first day, Rockville vs. Sullivan was maybe the best PHWVC contest ever in terms of intensity and passion. The North-South game that followed, which was also a dandy, paled by comparison (and had a smaller crowd).

• Best teams to watch — Marshall and West Vigo, who staged a classic game of their own for third place, had four extremely solid performances that were a joy. Brannan might not consider this his best man-to-man defensive team, but I think I do. Which leads me to …

• Defensive players — There was plenty of hard-nosed play during the week, so this isn’t a complete list, but guys like Wittenmyer, Caleb Turner of Sullivan, Austin Lewis of North, Koye Kaiser of Linton and Josh Parker of Owen Valley take pride in their work at the other end of the court.

And at least twice I saw two of them guarding each other, which pretty much reduced those games to four-on-four, like overtime hockey.

Those defenders still weren’t guaranteed to stop …

• The penetrators — Jordan Houser of West Vigo and Brock Dowell of Shakamak wore out probably a dozen defenders each in the course of the week. Trying to stay in front of either one was a frustrating job (and probably means Marshall’s Jacob Duncan belongs on that previous list too).

And on Thursday, we wound up watching a battle of left-handed facilitators when Dowell (my choice as the most egregious all-tournament snub) and Owen Valley point forward Trent Whitten combined for 16 assists.

• Teams who helped themselves — Start with South, which was a first quarter against North away from going 4-0 after entering the tournament with one win. One win is what South Vermillion has now, which has to help the Wildcats, and Casey, Marshall and maybe even Sullivan (see below) are a little bit better now than they were a week ago. I’m willing to add the champion Patriots to this list too, on the nights when they’re not easily satisfied.

• A little inconsistent, perhaps? Linton had three games — one great, two not so good. Monrovia got blown out by Linton, then nearly beat Bloomfield. Bloomfield could have lost to Monrovia, then turned around to beat Rockville by 10. That game puts Rockville on this list — the Rox seem to have one weirdly bad PHWVC game each year, although it doesn’t seem to hurt them later in the year — and Sullivan’s pattern of overpowering spurts followed by lulls that let opponents get close again might need a little smoothing out.

Speaking of smoothing out …

• Unsung hero — Some of the computers at Terre Haute North are very similar to those at the Tribune-Star (not necessarily a compliment).

The graciousness of the Patriot staff, particularly Stacy Mason and Kris Painter, was complemented very nicely by North student Jessica Sotak, the nicest technical assistant I’ve worked with in quite a while.

Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321. Follow @TribStarAndy on Twitter.