J.R. Holmes is officially one game away from concluding his 29th season as Head Coach of Bloomington South. As a man that's been at the helm for 683 games, Holmes knows that opportunities like the Panthers have had these past three years just don't come around very so often.
"People, I don't care if it's our second time here," said Holmes.
"I hope they don't plan on being here a third time shortly too, it's just not going to happen. North Central had five of their top six that won the State, and that happens. Last year we were 23-0, getting ready to go to the final four, and we didn't get there. So you never know when it is going to come to an end. But if it comes to an end for one of us, obviously Saturday night, the end isn't quite as bad if you are number two compared to if you were number eight or number twelve. It's still not going to feel good, but somebody is going to have to lose."
The Panthers (25-2) are back in the IHSAA Class 4A State Championship game for a second time in just three years, and will be competing against against a very competitive Kokomo Wildkats (23-2) squad, who are making their nineteenth appearance at the State Finals, competing for their second overall championship. Tip-off for the Class 4A State Championship is at Conseco Fieldhouse at 8:45 p.m. ET on Saturday, and a live broadcast of the game can be seen on Indiana's 4 WTTV.
Bloomington South enters Saturday having the type of experience on the squad that most coaches would give anything to have. Members of this Panthers squad were part of one of only twelve undefeated seasons in IHSAA Basketball history in 2009 (26-0, 69-62 victory over Snider at State), a 49-game regular season winning streak, and have been in virtually every situation that can possibly surface during a basketball game.
"I think in the Spencer (Turner) era, he's like 93-5 in his four years at Bloomington South," said Holmes.
"He's been playing varsity basketball for all of those, and starting about 95% of those games. When Dee (Darwin Davis Jr.) came over as a sophomore, then a junior, and senior, he hasn't missed maybe three games in almost three years here. So it's that, and the other seniors were all varsity practice players. They didn't dress, but they were here during the whole extra month that we had, they practiced here at Conseco, and went through all the tournament success. They were on the medal stand, we got them medals, and we got them on the step-stand, so they have been through that award, just not the actual game. So we hoped starting the season, we were as experienced as any team in the state with what they have done. And you still have to do it on the gameday, and it will be a really hard game I'm sure. But we had a really hard game last Saturday, and we are just trying to get really rested up from that one."
It's hard to consider a Bloomington South victory an upset, but that may have been what happened last Saturday at the Southport Semi-State when the Panthers dropped #2 North Central (22-3) by the final of 76-66. Davis led all scorers that game with 20 points, and is looking to feel what the seniors he helped reach the ultimate pinnacle of Indiana basketball feel when it's all said and done on his IHSAA career.
"You know when I played two years ago, it was mostly for the seniors, it was their senior year, to win state," said Davis. "This year is my senior year and I'm trying to make it again."
Davis, who will be playing at Xavier next year, leads a potent (69.5 points per game) Bloomington South offense, averaging 21.9 ppg and 5.6 assists throughout his senior campaign. Running mate in Senior Spencer Turner, who is also a guard, is having just as a stellar of a year at 16.3 ppg. and five rebounds. Against a Kokomo defense that has only allowed 48.8 ppg., both seniors will need to be playing their best and pushing this Bloomington South offense in order to pull off a victory.
"We try to push the tempo when we can," said Holmes. "But we have to understand who the opponent is, what the situation is, and what offenses are working. But we will push the tempo if we can, but we will sit in a half-court offense if we have too."
As for Kokomo Head Coach Brian McCauley, he entered the 2010-11 season as the Wildkats with a full head of dark hair. After these past couple weeks, with ended with buzzer-beats in the Regional and Semi-State championships, it wouldn't surprise anybody if they were completely gray.
"They are starting to pop out," said McCauley with a laugh. "My wife reminds me of that, but it's been a lot of fun. Sometimes you think how many of these shots do we have in our bag? So I'm hoping we can at some point get some cushion so we don't have to reach into the bag for a last second shot."
The Wildkats seem to be some form of team of destiny, first with a a thrilling 58-55 double-overtime victory over Pendleton Heights thanks to a LaBradford Sebree three-pointer. And then a week later, it was Senior D.J. Balentine dribbling down the clock against undefeated number-one ranked Munster (25-1), and then hitting a three-pointer with 1.4 seconds left to give the Wlidkats a 47-44 victory.
"D.J. penetrated in and got a little separation," said McCauley. "And he just made a big time shot. He's a big time player, and we are just thankful that he is on our team. But we understand that we are in this spot because of our team balance and our collectiveness, so that's why we are here."
It maybe a team effort as to why Kokomo has been so succesfful this season, but Balentine has been nothing less than terrific all season long. The Junior Guard is averaging 16.2 points per game and 3.9 assists, and will be a major factor in the Wildkats ability to succeed on Saturday.
"He's a very good student, and he's never in a hurry," said McCauley. "And that really helps him on the basketball court. He has a high basketball IQ, he is an outstanding passer, and he makes guys around him better. He is a deceptively good defender with long arms, and quick hands. He gets a lot of deflections, is second on our team in steals, and he has a lot going for him. We are thankful to have him on our team, but I know he is also thankful for his teammates."
The Wildkats are very well spread throughout their offensive after Balentine, including the Sophomore Sebree (8.4 ppg, 4.2 rebounds), Senior Huston Clark (8.3 ppg, 6.6 rebounds), Senior Parker Salinas (7.7 ppg, 3.9 rebounds), and Senior Cheyse Swain (6.8 ppg., 3.8 rebounds) are just a few Kokomo's role players that can ultimately determine the outcome of any given basketball game.
But it's going to take an overall team effort for the Wildkats to capture their second State championship and finally hang a banner next to the one from 1961 that's had many opportunities to be joined.
"It's going to be a tough challenge," said McCauley.
"Bloomington South plays a very tough schedule, and they've had an outstanding year. They have a lot of experience in which they can draw upon, and a very good coach in Coach Holmes. We have a lot of respect for their team and him, and we are going to have to play well as a team to find ways to be successful against their offense and defense. They beat a very good North Central team, they have had a lot of tough games in the season at the Hall of Fame Classic, so we have our work cut out for us. We are going to give it our best and are thankful for the opportunity."
Tip-off for the Class 4A State Championship is at Conseco Fieldhouse at 8:45 p.m. ET on Saturday, and a live broadcast of the game can be seen on Indiana's 4 WTTV.
Class 4A Preview: Bloomington South looks to capture second in three years against Kokomo
The Bloomington South Panthers (25-2) look for their third State championship victory while their opponents in the Kokomo Wildkats (23-2) will be competing in their second State championship. Tip-off for the Class 4A State Championship is at Conseco Fieldhouse at 8:45 p.m. ET on Saturday, and a live broadcast of the game can be seen on Indiana's 4 WTTV.
- Bloomington South Head Coach J.R. Holmes
- Kokomo Head Coach Brian McCauley
- J.R. Holmes team gets by defending 4A Champ North Central 76-66 while the Pumas advance to their first Class A title game with a win over North Daviess.
- Bloomington South Discusses Their Semi State Victory At Southport
- One Dribble At A Time In Kokomo