TERRE HAUTE —
The Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic is always certain to provide one of the best gifts of the high school sports calendar each year.
It’s a measuring stick for the teams and four days of non-stop hoops for the hardwood addicts out there.
Four days of drama on the basketball floor also provide everyone a better idea of who is going to be contending for conference and sectional championships in the next few weeks.
Following are some of the top storylines of the 14th annual high school boys basketball tournament.
Target on the arrows
No team has been more consistent in the Classic the past four years as Sullivan has been among the final four each each of those years, including the 2009 title win over Terre Haute North.
“It’s a wide open field with Sullivan’s experience and talent level obviously making them the favorite,” Terre Haute North coach Todd Woelfle said.
Coach Jeff Moore’s team is by far the most experienced in the tournament. Point guard Brooks Weszely was an all-tournament team performer as a junior, and 6-foot-5, 240-pound big man Jake Kinnaman averaged 18.5 points in the Arrows’ first two games this season.
Last year’s runner-up, Robinson will hope to win a rematch against defending tournament champion Rockville in the first round to win a potential shot at Sullivan. The 4-0, Class 2A No. 5 Arrows play Turkey Run in the first round tonight at 7 p.m.
“They’ll be tough for anyone to beat,” Robinson coach Mack Thompson said. “They’ve got a lot of size and experience back and some kids that can shoot it. Definitely have to have one of your better games to beat them.”
Examining the bracket
Terre Haute South’s first-round game against Marshall stands out among the first-round pairings. The 4-2 Lions and 2-2 Braves are similar in that they can bring pesky defense and a variety of options at the offensive end.
“I watched them beat Casey, who beat us. Instant respect right there, they went into Casey and won,” South coach Scott Ridge said. “They shoot the ball well, they space the floor, they’re well-coached. It’s a basketball town, they bring a big crowd.”
The winner of that game could get another chance to play the Warriors, led by one of the tournament’s top scorers in senior Brandon Wolfe. Casey plays 0-5 Monrovia today at 4 p.m. to open play in the bottom half of the bracket.
Wolfe and Robinson’s 6-4 forward Michael Akande are the only other returning all-tournament team players back for this year’s tournament.
That puts some of the more well-known players in the bottom bracket, but Linton, who lost just 52-49 to Sullivan last week, is hoping to be among the teams to contend in the top bracket. The Miners are without one of the top big-man duos from last year’s tournament — Dess Fougerousse and Austin Karazsia — but 6-2 senior Bryant Jackson is leading the Miners to a solid start this season.
Terre Haute North might be the top contender to come out of the top half of the bracket as well. Sophomore Keshaun Sandifer and Charlie Aimone are scoring in double figures to give North a strong perimeter pair.
“Anything can happen, especially when you’re playing four games in five days,” said coach Woelfle, who won consecutive PHWVC titles in 2010 and 2011 after back-to-back runner-up finishes. “I’m interested to see how our guys react in a pressure atmosphere.”
Marshall coach Tom Brannan has been a part of the tournament every year since its inception in 2000, winning the 2008 title after falling to Terre Haute South in the 2007 championship. The Lions also won the consolation bracket in 2000 and 2004.
Kobe Brannan, the 15-year-old son of the coach, was around the Lions’ as a ball boy for the Marshall championship run. He’s now serving as a team manager after having to give up playing due to a health issue.
Kobe was born with a heart defect and underwent a transplant when he was seven weeks old.
“He’s on the list to get another heart,” coach Brannan said. “I think our guys have always played hard and motivated. I think this year, there’s a little extra motivation.”
First-year players on the scene
It’s always intriguing to see what freshmen might impress in the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic. It’s fun to project where those players will be in a couple years and what degree of positive impact they might have on their program.
Terre Haute South’s Jaylen Minnett, who scored 14 points off the bench in two Braves’ games last week, is one of several in this year’s tournament to keep an eye on.
Marshall will start a pair of freshmen, with 6-foot-4 Spencer Shafner and 6-0 guard Brock Finkbiner. Shafner has averaged close to 10 rebounds a game so far for the Lions.
Linton’s 6-2 Josh Dieball is among several players vying for time in the Miners’ frontcourt.
Robinson freshman Dillon Dirks, the younger brother of Indiana State forward/center Kelsey Dirks, will play big minutes for the Maroons, especially after Robinson lost starting guard Jason Richart to a knee injury.
Rockville’s Lance Hopkins had 11 points for the 3-2 Rox in their 56-50 double-overtime win against South Putnam last week.
14th annual Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic
Today’s first-round games
At Terre Haute North
South Vermillion vs. Riverton Parke, 10 a.m.
Northview vs Linton, 11:30 a.m.
Owen Valley vs. West Vigo, 1 p.m.
Terre Haute North vs. Shakamak, 2:30 p.m.
Monrovia vs. Casey, 4 p.m.
Marshall vs. Terre Haute South, 5:30 p.m.
Turkey Run vs. Sullivan, 7 p.m.
Robinson vs. Rockville, 8:30 p.m.