They have the experience. They have the talent. They have the chemistry. They have the heart.
Could this be the year for University High School boys basketball?
The coaches and players think it could be. Ask any one of them, and they’ll tell you the same thing.
They want to win state.
“Our goal is a state championship,” said junior Zack Hodgin, one of two team captains. “That’s what we think, that’s what the team thinks, and that’s what our coaches think.
Head Coach Brandon Lafferman agrees. “We’re coming off a 20-win season last year, which is really hard to do,” he said. “It would be great to recreate that. We haven’t talked specifically about a number of wins as a goal, but we want to win a state championship. And we feel like we have a team that is capable of doing that.”
In addition to last year’s 20-win season, the Trailblazers are coming off their best summer ever, losing only one game in all their tournament play. The juniors and seniors traveled to Los Angeles in June for a teambuilding trip as well as a tournament, and there the Trailblazers went 3-1. They were undefeated in tournaments in Wabash and Westfield.
“The Los Angeles trip was super fun,” said senior Ben Glazier. “We got to travel a lot, and we also got to play in some tournaments against big California schools (equivalent to 3A and 4A schools in the IHSAA). We ran some new plays, and the team chemistry really improved from the trip.”
Lafferman calls the summer a kind of “miniature season,” as it allows the team to keep playing together and to build on their successes from the previous year. It also is a time for new players to get acclimated to the team, which was especially important for the Trailblazers this summer. In addition to some promising new freshmen, the Trailblazers added Carmel transfers Foster Flamion and Kaden Edwards, both juniors, to the roster.
A Talented Junior Class
The Trailblazers have had some talented basketball classes over the years, but none compare to this year’s junior class. The team’s four returning starters from last season – Emerson Halbleib, Zack Hodgin, David Howard, and Josh Watson – are all juniors. And the bench is stacked with junior talent. In fact, 9 of the team’s 12 varsity players are juniors. The other three are seniors Josh Alford, who is back this season from an injury, Ben Glazier, and Tyler Wott.
The fact that many of these players have played together for the past three years has solidified a strong team chemistry that the coaches appreciate. Coach Lafferman first got a glimpse of this in the Vincennes holiday tournament last season.
“You can go back to last year when we played in the Christmas tournament; I think that was the first time I really understood what we were capable of,” said Lafferman. “We were picked 5th or 6th out of eight teams to come in first, and we won the whole thing in pretty impressive fashion. That sort of made me realize that these kids are winners and they love the game. You have to have that to really get far in basketball, and we have a whole group that’s like that.”
Junior David Howard, also a team captain, agreed. “I think we’re super unselfish,” he said. “I think everyone is in the same mindset of wanting what’s best for the team instead of getting their own stats.”
The Challenge of Tindley
Though the coaches and players see promise in this year’s season, there is one big obstacle still to overcome – Tindley.
“Winning a sectional is hard when Tindley (Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School) is in your sectional,” said Lafferman. “They have a potential Indiana Mr. Basketball guy in Eric Hunter. Our guys are going to have to figure out a way to dethrone them.”
Tindley has upset the Trailblazers in the sectional tournament the past two years. Last year, Tindley beat University 45-42 in the sectional semifinal at Bethesda Christian.
“We’ve lost to Tindley the past two years with two really close games,” said senior Tyler Wott. “It’s a long season, but everyone kind of has the thought in the back of their head that the biggest game that matters this year is going to be the Tindley game.”
University has one thing going for them in the battle against Tindley this year – the home court advantage. University will host the IHSAA Sectional 58 Tournament in 2017 and 2018.
“We had a lot of fans for the Tindley game last year (the sectional semifinal),” said senior Ben Glazier. “If we see Tindley in the sectional this year, we can have everybody there. It’s going to be packed, and we’re going to be extremely excited.”
“We want to beat Tindley,” senior Josh Alford added. “That’s what should be in everyone’s minds. We want to be that kind of team consistently, and I want the younger guys to carry that on once we’re gone.”
The Trailblazers kicked off their regular season last night with a 75-31 over Shortridge High School. The team shot over 55% from the floor, including hitting 8 of 15 three-point attempts. David Howard was the leading scorer with 18 points. Ethan Sickels hit 4 of 5 three-point shots, and Josh Alford and Zack Hodgin both contributed 11 points.
The home opener for the Trailblazers is tomorrow night (Wednesday, Nov. 23) versus Park Tudor in The U Center. JV tips off at 6 p.m., and varsity follows at 7 p.m.