Winning their school’s first high school basketball regional championship in 67 years didn’t take Linton’s Miners entirely by surprise, they indicated this week — even though one of their players sometimes chides his teammates about “confidence issues.”
And the way the Miners responded to a setback that would have derailed the dreams of a lot of teams gives them reason to think their ride doesn’t need to stop with their appearance in the Class 2A Richmond Semistate on Saturday.
“This is amazing. All the hard work is paying off,” senior center Austin Karazsia said earlier this week. “[Winning] the sectional was good, but the regional was that much sweeter. We knew we had a really good shot [at winning] down there [at the Southridge Regional], we just didn’t know how it would happen.”
Unpredictability is actually a strength of the Miners, however, coach Joey Hart said this week. At least it is now.
When Linton rolled into the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic with an undefeated record in late December, it did so as a fairly conventional team, one built around the 6-foot-8 Karazsia, 6-5 Dess Fougerousse and veteran point guard Sam Dyar. Dyar went down with a knee injury less than a minute into Linton’s first game at the Classic, however, and was lost for the season; within three days the Miners had their first two losses.
“Sam was awesome. He controlled the ball all the time,” said junior Bryant Jackson, whose time on the floor increased by a lot as soon as that injury occurred.
“Bringing the ball up [the court] is a lot of pressure,” added senior Keith Fulk, who suddenly found himself doing just that.
“I had to come in and help Keith out. People say we have weak guard play anyway,” Jackson added.
“Sam’s injury was a real downer. Definitely a setback,” Hart agreed. “But in a way, it made us tougher. It forced us to go back to work and it forced us to be unconventional — and therefore hard to prepare for.”
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Fougerousse. “We had people step up, and we had to come together as a team.”
“Keith Fulk and Bryant Jackson stepped up, [junior reserve] Ryan Woodward got better, and [freshman] Joe Dieball contributed,” Hart said.
It doesn’t hurt either that Fougerousse, besides being Linton’s all-time scoring leader, also has the school’s career assist record, or that when Hart says “I’m 100-percent sure we have one of the best passers in the state” he’s referring to Karazsia. So if there’s a committee required to get the offense started, it’s a pretty good committee.
“We’re hard to prepare for,” Hart said, “because it’s hard [for opponents] to figure who’s going to be where.”
“We bring so much to the table, no one can prepare for it,” Fulk added.
The other factors in his team’s success, the coach added, are “unselfishness, maturity and team chemistry.” Fougerousse and Karazsia combine for more than 40 points per game with almost an even split and are obviously willing to do anything else they can do to help and the role players — a group that also includes senior rebounder and defensive standout Jackson Bohnert and reserve Zach Riddell, a regional hero filling in when Karazsia was in foul trouble — have been standouts in their own way.
“Without them, we couldn’t have won the regional,” Karazsia said of his less heralded teammates. “Everyone stepped up and got us a championship.”
“With this talent,” Hart said, “when you add unselfishness, good things are going to happen.”
Those good things are what the Miners expected — to a degree, at least — for quite some time.
“[Karazsia’s] always been good,” said Bohnert, a veteran of second-grade AAU teams that included Fulk, Karazsia and Woodward, among others. “I didn’t start getting better until last year … but I knew we’d be pretty good if we all stuck with it.”
“I don’t think anybody expected us to be where we’re at,” said Jackson, who wasn’t even sure he’d be a varsity contributor early in the season, “but we knew we could do it … I knew our team would be this good; I just didn’t know I’d be that big a part of it.”
“At the beginning of the year, I knew I wanted to work hard for this team and make sure we’d go far,” said Fulk, another first-year varsity contributor. “This is no surprise to me.”
It’s no surprise to Fougerousse either, although it might have been a few years ago when he was playing for White River Valley.
“We used to beat Linton,” said Fougerousse, who became a Miner as an eighth-grader, “but when we started eighth-grade [basketball] I was like, ‘We’re good!’ We were undefeated as eighth-graders — of course we started 6-5, 6-5 and 6-4.”
No reason then, he figures, that the pattern won’t continue.
“I told [the other Miners] we were going to win the Pizza Hut, the GCI [Greene County Invitational] and the sectional,” Fougerousse said. Although Dyar’s injury impacted the first goal, the other two were accomplished — maybe with more to come.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Fougerousse added. “[Going to the state finals] is what every little kid dreams of, and we’re one game away from doing that.”