From now until the beginning of the high school boys basketball season we’ll be counting down the Preseason Fab 15, a ranking of the top teams in Central Indiana. We started with No. 12 Hamilton Southeastern, No. 13 Martinsville, No. 14 Mt. Vernon and No. 15 Pendleton Heights. Next on our list:
No. 11 – Ben Davis
With not much experience returning and a talented junior class coming into the season, there might be a tendency to look ahead to next year as “the year” for Ben Davis.
Not so, veteran coach Mark James said.
“I’m excited about this team,” said James, who is entering his fifth season at Ben Davis and 34th overall. “This is probably the deepest team that we’ve had since I’ve been here. But we’re young. We don’t have a lot of guys who have played varsity basketball.”
Ben Davis was 18-8 last season, equaling the program’s highest win total since James’ arrival. The Giants reached the finals of the Marion County tournament (losing to Pike) and the semifinals of the sectional (losing to Southport). But most of the key players from that team are gone to graduation, including its top five scorers – DeShon Tate (13.8 ppg, 43 percent 3-pointers), Brennan Gillis (11.8 ppg, 6.1 rebounds), Stephon Matthews (8.5 ppg), Tylor Shane (6.5 ppg, 3.8 rebounds) and Jason Solomon (6.3 ppg).
That’s a lot of talent, a lot of size and a lot of production out the door. James compares it to two years ago, when that group was going into its junior season. The Giants finished 11-9 that year.
“That’s about where we are now,” James said. “We didn’t know how good Tate was going to be and we got two good years out of him. We have a good junior class and good depth, but it’s hard to determine it right now. Most of our guys have only played junior varsity ball.”
Datrion Harper, a 6-foot junior, is the most experienced Giant. The point guard averaged 4.8 points a game as a sophomore, shot 12-for-35 (34 percent) from the 3-point line, was third on the team in assists (1.9) and tied for the team lead with 21 steals.
“By being our most experienced player, the big thing that he has to do now is lead,” James said of Harper. “Sometimes that’s hard for a junior. Being a vocal leader is sort of against his personality. But he’s showed a lot of improvement.”
Josh Brewer (1.5 ppg, 1.5 rebounds), a 6-4 forward, is another junior with varsity experience. James said Brewer has also shown improvement from the end of his sophomore season to now.
“He can play inside and outside,” James said.
Other players with varsity experience in the junior class are 6-2 Trevaughn Bush (2.7 ppg), 6-3 LeShaun Minor (3.8 ppg, 2.4 rebounds) and 6-foot Jalen Newsom (0.8 ppg).
Ian Deiters, a 6-1 senior, will give the Giants an outside shooting threat. Deiters averaged 2.2 points a game last season and was 12-for-40 (30 percent) from the 3-point line. Ben Davis shot 198 fewer 3-pointers than its opponents last season but shot nearly 40 percent.
“Ian Deiters had a really good year in tennis and he’s a kid that has been a good role player for us,” James said. “We need him to do a little more for us now and that’s the case for a lot of kids this year.”
Other seniors on the roster are 6-6 Naeem Freeman (4.0 ppg, 3.3 rebounds in limited action), 5-10 guard Rashaad Manning (junior varsity last season) and 6-2 Jalen London (junior varsity).
A sophomore who could be an impact player is 6-5 Aaron Henry, who already holds a scholarship offer from IUPUI.
“You never know for sure about an underclassman playing in our conference,” James said. “(Henry) can be a really good young player but it can be tough to come into our league and be an impact player.”
James said he likes the versatility of this year’s team.
“We’ll be able to do some different things because of the type of players we have,” he said. “We’ll have a lot of interchangeable players. I sort of like it when our teams are that way. I think it’s a good thing. We have a lot of interchangeable parts.”
There is a lot of question marks, however. There isn’t a lot of offensive production returning.
“We have to find points,” James said. “I can’t tell you right now where they’ll come from. Finding points will probably be the biggest thing for us. We’ll have to do it by committee this year.”
Why Ben Davis could be higher: Harper and Henry are talented players and there are a number of others who can fill roles. James seems to find a way to maximize the talent on the roster, though it may take some time to mesh.
Why Ben Davis could be lower: There isn’t a player on the roster to average 5 points a game on varsity. That leaves plenty of uncertainty going into the season.
Circle the date: Dec. 4-5. At Pike on Friday and Southport at home on Saturday. The young Giants will be tested right away.