Men’s Basketball Meets Early Expectations

The Irish men’s basketball team is off to a great start to the season, but faces a tough stretch coming up


Lacey Nix

Senior Kamari Slaughter elevates for a dunk against Fort Wayne North Side on Nov. 22. Slaughter had 12 points in a 93-45 Irish victory.

The men’s basketball team is ranked as the 22nd best team in the country by MaxPreps, and expectations have never been higher. Led by a strong senior group that includes Xavier Booker, a consensus top ten recruit in the country for the class of 2023, the Irish will look to compete for a second straight State Championship in March. 

But there is a long season that awaits the team before they can hoist the trophy yet again. The team’s defense of the second State Championship in program history began on Nov. 22 in dominating fashion.

The team was missing a few key pieces for its first game against Fort Wayne North Side, as they were not yet eligible to play due to their lack of practices after the football season, which ended with a Semi State loss to Center Grove on Nov. 18. Senior and returning starter Jaron Tibbs, who was the leading receiver on the football team and will attend Purdue for football, watched from the bench in street clothes along with junior Zach Meeks and sophomores Albren Johnson and Aidan Hughes. 

The team’s supposed lack of depth proved not to be a factor against North Side, however, as they came away with a 93-45 victory. The team played stifling defense, holding the Legends to 29% shooting from the field with zero made three point attempts. Booker commanded the defense, tallying five blocks and seven defensive rebounds. Also contributing were junior Anthony Fields and sophomore Lebron Gough, who had three steals apiece. 

There was also no shortage of offense for the Irish, as five players scored in double-digits. Booker led the way with 21 points, missing only one shot. Seniors Jake Davis, Sincere Germany, and Kamari Slaughter added 14, 13 and 12 points respectively and sophomore Brady Koehler scored 11.

Head Coach Mr. Jason Delaney was pleased with the team’s performance, specifically how they handled playing shorthanded. He said, “Everyone contributed, so that’s when you start to see you’ve got a program, because anyone that’s stepping in on any level contributed something.”

Senior Jake Davis is averaging 16.0 points per game. Davis committed to Mercer University in early Oct. (Lacey Nix)

Delaney was especially impressed with some of the younger players, who stepped up in the absence of Tibbs. He specifically mentioned Gough, who will take on the difficult task of replacing the recently departed Tayshaun Comer in the lineup. Gough has shown flashes, especially defensively, since his freshman year and will look to improve offensively over the course of his career. Delaney also mentioned Fields, who, coming off of two ACL surgeries, provided a boost despite his being on a minutes restriction. 

The team traveled to Jeffersonville for its second game on Nov. 26, and this time, the team was fully intact, minus Koehler, who was dealing with illness. With the team nearly at full strength, a glimpse at their full potential was shown in yet another dominant performance. The team more than doubled the score of the Red Devils, winning 95-45. The onslaught of offense was led by Tibbs, who had no trouble transitioning from catching passes to scoring baskets.

Tibbs, after just eight days off after the conclusion of a senior football season in which he totaled over 900 yards and 13 touchdowns, scored 26 points and added seven assists and five steals, leading the team in all three categories. Delaney was very impressed with Tibbs’ performance, saying, “I think Jaron could go out to track right now, he could go to baseball and get a hit, who knows. He’s just one of those guys that anything he picks up he’s just really good at.”

After those two dominant wins, the team will face their first tests coming up on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3. First, the team will face Brebeuf, a rematch of last year’s nail biter in which the Irish were victorious in overtime, 63-61. The Braves have since lost Billy Smith, their star player who is now playing at Miami (OH), but Delaney expects the game to be competitive nonetheless. He said, “(The Brebeuf) guys are going to be fundamental. They’re gonna play hard, they’re gonna be able to make shots, they’re gonna have a high IQ. That’s what you always get from Brebeuf.”

Perhaps the tougher of the two games will take place on Saturday, when the team will face Centerville (OH) in the Sneakers for Santa Shootout at Brownsburg. The Elks are led by the highly touted senior point guard Gabe Cupps, who is committed to play at Indiana. Junior Jonathan Powell is also highly recruited, holding offers from Ohio State and Michigan State, among others. They are ranked 31st in the nation by MaxPreps and are coming off of a 29-1 season in which they lost in the State Championship. 

Delaney expressed his anticipation for the team to be tested, saying, “This is why we started building the schedule the way we did.”

Looking forward, Delaney’s focus is not on going undefeated, but instead on facing the toughest competition possible, and preparing the team for a tournament run. He said, “Our ultimate goal, as we learned last year, is the end result. Everything on the way is just part of the process.”