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By Matt Denison | Photos by Jason Applegate and Darryl Middleton
There’s no better Hoosier State tradition than high school hoops — and there’s no question that basketball this season in Southern Indiana is strong.
New Albany junior Romeo Langford’s rise to national prominence has served as the area’s top headline in recent months. Following the Bulldogs’ memorable state championship journey last season, interest from fans, media and recruiters for games at The Doghouse has set the tone for this hoops-crazed region.
“Interest in our program has always been fantastic,” said New Albany coach Jim Shannon, now in his 19th year as the Bulldogs’ mentor. “But after our state title, it’s been mayhem around here. A lot of it has to do with the attention that Romeo brings; but our team as a whole is playing quite well, and that’s brought in the fans, too.”
Langford, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, is drawing attention and scholarship offers from nearly every college basketball powerhouse in the country, including Kentuckiana’s three major programs: Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville.
“It’s been fascinating to see all of the interest in Romeo,” Shannon added. “The number of fans that stick around after the games — even at road games — to get an autograph or picture with him has been truly amazing.”
The regular season will unwind in February and give way to postseason basketball madness in March. While Romeo and Company have the spotlight, there’s a slate of Southern Indiana teams that are primed to make noise in the state tournament.
HISTORIC SEASON AT HENRYVILLE
Henryville is in the midst of a terrific season, keyed by the duo of senior Braxton Robertson and junior Nick Walker. It’s the program’s best start in more than 70 years, according to coach Jared Hill.
The Hornets opened the season with a 50-47 win over rival Silver Creek and turned in a solid effort at Jeffersonville’s Throckmorton Memorial Tournament during the holidays.
“Our bar is set really high for us (the rest of the season),” Hill said. “Our confidence is high, everybody has bought in and we’re focused. If things pan out, this might be one of the best (Henryville) teams ever.”
PROVIDENCE LOOKS FOR STRONG FINISH
A young Providence team led by a young coach surprised the area last season when it surged all the way to the Class 2-A semistate at Richmond before falling 70-62 to Indianapolis Howe.
“I thought last year would be a building year for this season,” third-year coach Andrew Grantz said. “The postseason experience last year gave our guys a lot of confidence in their abilities. It helped us set our standards higher with what we’re capable of achieving.”
With seven seniors on the roster, Providence began the 2016-17 season with the second-best start in school history, including a 53-50 win over Jeffersonville on Jan. 14. It was the program’s first win over the Red Devils in nine seasons.
“It (was) a really special win for the community and the school,” said Grantz, whose team could rematch with Henryville in the Class 2-A sectional at Crawford County.
January’s Top Players
COBIE BARNES, FLOYD CENTRAL
6-FOOT-4, SOPHOMORE, FORWARD
“He’s got loads of potential and is just beginning to scratch the surface. He can play multiple positions for us. The sky is the limit for him as a high school player, and he’s got great potential for the next level as well.” — Highlanders’ coach Todd Sturgeon
JUSTON BETZ, PROVIDENCE
6-FOOT-2, SENIOR, GUARD
“He’s undoubtedly one of the best leaders I’ve coached. He wants to excel in every aspect of his life, and is a 4.0 (grade-point average) student. On the basketball floor, he doesn’t just affect games by scoring, but finds other ways to help the team win.” — Pioneers’ coach Andrew Grantz
BAILEY FALKENSTEIN, JEFFERSONVILLE
6-FOOT-2, JUNIOR, GUARD
“He’s really developed into quite an offensive threat. He consistently leads our team each night in scoring and, generally, assists. He’s become more of a complete player during his junior year.” — Red Devil’s coach Joe Luce
CAMERON STEPHENS, SILVER CREEK
5-FOOT-11, SENIOR, GUARD
“(Cameron) leads us in many statistical categories, but his most important ability is leadership. In my 14 years at Silver Creek, he’s by far the best leader I’ve ever had, both on and off the basketball court.” — Dragons’ coach Brandon Hoffman
ROMEO LANGFORD, NEW ALBANY
6-FOOT-5, JUNIOR, GUARD
“Going on three years now, he’s led us in many statistical categories. The impact that he’s had on the game can never really just be measured by statistics, but he certainly does put up big numbers.” — Bulldogs’ coach Jim Shannon
NICK WALKER, HENRYVILLE
6-FOOT-3, JUNIOR, GUARD
“If things aren’t going well, he’ll get the ball and go score. He’s prepared to put us on his shoulders. His teammates, the kids and teachers at school — everyone likes and respects him.” — Hornets’ coach Jared Hill
February Games to Watch
FEB. 2 — SILVER CREEK AT SALEM
FEB. 10 — PROVIDENCE AT NEW ALBANY
FEB. 14 — CHARLESTOWN AT NEW WASHINGTON FEB. 14 — SALEM AT HENRYVILLE