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Nine local players earn all-conference honors

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

Four Marion Giants and five Grant County players were named to their respective all-conference boys’ basketball teams, it has been announced.

Freshman Jalen Blackmon became the fourth Blackmon family member to receive all-North Central Conference first team honors, joining his father James (1982-83) and older siblings James Jr. (2014) and Vijay (2016). Sophomore JK Thomas also was named to the first team, while juniors Dre Aguilar and Latrell Simpson made the second team.

Eastbrook senior Ryan Mansbarger received all-Central Indiana Conference recognition for the third straight year. Oak Hill seniors Spencer Ballinger and Caleb Middlesworth are all-CIC first teamers for the second year in a row. Mississinewa senior Thabit Gault and Madison-Grant junior Wyatt Rudy also were recognized for the second time.

In addition, Oak Hill seniors Tyce Frank and David Arens and Eastbrook sophomore Capone Johnson received all-CIC honorable mention.

Blackmon made the jump from middle school appear seamless and averaged 22.3 points in leading the Giants to a 20-7 season and 3A regional runner-up finish. The Giants finished second in the NCC behind McCutcheon and won a sectional championship before 3A top-ranked New Castle ended their season.

A 6-foot-1 guard, Blackmon finished with 601 points to set a freshman single-season scoring record and established a new single-season standard for most 3-point baskets (104) among other achievements. Blackmon shot 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc and passed out 3.3 assists and grabbed 3.2 rebounds per game.

Thomas, a 5-6 guard, was the other half of the Giants’ explosive backcourt and averaged 15.6 points through the sectional with 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists.

Middlesworth and Ballinger have helped lead the 24-5 Golden Eagles to the Class 2A semistate this weekend after winning the school’s third regional championship. Middlesworth leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 63 percent from the field and 81 percent at the free throw line. He also made 45 percent of his 3-point attempts (29-of-64).

A Huntington University recruit, Ballinger was another frontline standout who averaged 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds for the Eagles. The 6-5 Ballinger ranks second with 2.6 assists per game and leads the team with 41 steals.

Mansbarger set the Eastbrook all-time individual scoring record during the season and finished with a 24.5-point average, tops among all Grant County players. A 6-3 guard, Mansbarger showed great shooting range and connected on 37 percent of his 3-point attempts (70-of-184) and sank 82 percent at the foul line. He helped the Panthers to an 11-12 season and sectional runner-up finish.

Gault, a 6-6 center, averaged a double-double for Mississinewa with 14.9 points and 11.6 rebounds, and he displayed an improved shooting touch with 20-of-61 firing from 3-point range for 33 percent and 74 percent at the foul line. The Indians finished 16-9 and lost to Marion 57-54 in the 3A sectional finals.

Rudy, a 6-1 forward, led Madison-Grant with a 17.2-point average and grabbed 5.4 rebounds. He was an 85 percent foul shooter and the most experienced player for a young Argylls team which finished 6-17.

Simpson and Aguilar each had impressive moments for the Giants and earned all-NCC second team honors. Simpson was the No. 2 shooter from 3-point range at 57-of-168 for 34 percent through sectional and averaged 10.9 points. Aguilar was the Giants’ top inside player and contributed 9.3 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Frank and Arens also were major components for the Eagles, which ended the regular season ranked eighth in 2A after starting out as the top-ranked team. Frank averaged 10.6 points and a team-best 5.9 assists, while Arens averaged 10.9 points and was 41-of-99 from 3-point range for 41 percent. Frank has signed with Grace College and Arens with Huntington University.

Johnson, a 5-11 point guard, transfered to Eastbrook from Marion and provided 14.1 points and 7.4 assists in his first season for the Panthers.

The all-NCC team also features Indiana University recruit Robert Phinisee of league champion McCutcheon.

Luke Brown, the heralded freshman guard from Blackford, was named to the all-NCC even though his season ended early with a leg injury. Brown averaged 27.8 points and 5.5 assists over 15 games for the Bruins.