The 2020-21 high school boys basketball season in Indiana will be long remembered for numerous reasons, mostly that it was conducted in the midst of a pandemic.
Teams were faced with a daily task of dealing with protocols set forth which tried to insure the health and safety of players, coaches, families and fans.
Few if any seasons were completed without some sort of disruption. Games were postponed or canceled. Games were rescheduled or added on short notice.
Most importantly, games were played.
Many teams played their full allotment, though the schedule at the end of the season was likely different than the one laid out prior to opening night.
Gyms were mostly filled with the symphony of basketball: screeching sneakers, on-court communication, coaches yelling instructions and the bench players providing support and energy with only parents allowed to spectate for much of the season.
Face coverings were also part of the norm, for players on the bench, for coaches and for fans.
Given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the efforts to make a basketball season happen by all involved were unprecedented, monumental and much appreciated.
In Grant County, the 2020-21 season was historic on several fronts: the first 2,000-point scorer in county history at Marion, two 1,000-point scorers for both Madison-Grant and Mississinewa as well as the first sectional title in more than six decades for the Indians and the first outright CIC-title in Argylls’ history.
Assembling an all-county team for this season wasn’t as tough as it is normally, though in most years all five players on the first team could warrant consideration for Player of the Year.
But this isn’t most years, and the individual accomplishments of one player, Marion’s Jalen Blackmon, set him apart.
Following is the Chronicle-Tribune’s selection for 2020-21 All-Grant County boys basketball honors.
Player of the Year
Jalen Blackmon, Sr., Marion
When Jalen Blackmon first stepped on to the court in Bill Green Arena, he did so as a spindly freshman with the pressure of continuing the greatest family legacy in Marion Giant basketball history.
And he didn’t disappoint.
It’s almost a certainty, had Blackmon not endured a severe knee injury that cut his junior season to just eight games, this would be the fourth-straight season he earned county Player of the Year honors.
As it is, it’s his third recognition in four years.
Blackmon returned from injury with a vengeance.
Though he was unable to work on his game for a few months following surgery, Blackmon devoted himself to strengthening his body, and the results were noticeable.
A stronger frame allowed Blackmon to finish through contact much better, and most teams the Giants faced tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to stop Jalen by beating him up.
Blackmon averaged nine trips to the free throw line per game, and included 12 games where he had 10 or more free throw attempts. He made 81 percent (167-of-207) of his attempts, but it was just part of the reason he led the state at 33.5 points per game.
It seemed apropos that Jalen’s 1,898th-career point, the one that broke Marion’s all-time scoring record held since 1983 by his dad, James Blackmon, came with free throws on Jan. 29 against Logansport.
By necessity, Jalen was a volume shooter and connected on 51 percent of his shots from the field. He also made 40 percent of his shots from 3-point range and led the county with 85 makes from long distance.
Blackmon also averaged nearly four rebounds, four assists and more than two steals per game.
Although the Giants’ season ended with a loss to Lafayette Jeff in the opening round of Class 4A sectional 7, Blackmon closed his career with a flurry unlike any seen before in Marion history to finish the season with 704 points.
He averaged nearly 39 points over the last seven games. Blackmon scored 39 points against 2A state finalist Fort Wayne Blackhawk, then torched Hamilton Southeastern for 48, Fort Wayne Snider for 52 and tied the single-game scoring record at Marion with 55 against Lafayette Jeff.
Blackmon was named to the IBCA Senior Supreme 15 and was a first-team All-NCC performer. He will continue his career at Grand Canyon University, a first-time qualifier for the NCAA National Tournament in 2021.
All-County First team
Grant Brown, Sr., Madison-Grant
Brown added defensive stopper to his play-making offensive abilities under first-year M-G coach Kevin Cherry. He led Grant County with 136 assists (5.9 per game) and collected nearly seven rebounds a contest to go with his 15.1 points per game scoring average. All that while guarding the opposition’s best scorer most nights.
Landen Swanner, Sr., Mississinewa
Swanner’s sweet shooting stroke helped him make 41 percent (54-of-131) of his long range attempts and average nearly 17 points per game. He was one of the top set-up men in the county by handing out a career-high 5.2 assists per game as well. Swanner also grabbed nearly five rebounds a night and made 89 percent (72-of-81) from the foul line.
Kaden Howell, Sr., Madison-Grant
Howell finished his career as a four-year starter and led the Argylls in scoring 15.3 points per game. He also averaged nearly four rebounds, more than two assists and a steal in helping M-G to a CIC title and a 2A top-15 ranking most of the season.
Tai McClung, Sr., Mississinewa
McClung poured in nearly 16 points per game and collected almost seven rebounds. He did most of his offensive damage around the basket and made 65 percent (159-of-243) of his field goal attempts. Though he didn’t shoot much from outside, McClung knocked down 5-of-7 from 3-point range. He recently committed to Franklin College to continue his basketball career.
Landon Biegel, So., Oak Hill
Biegel broke out during an outstanding sophomore campaign for the Golden Eagles and finished second in the county at 18.3 points per game. He was also one of the top rebounders and collected nearly eight a night. Biegel shot 41 percent (55-of-135) from beyond the 3-point arc.
Note: All five first-team All-County players were also first-team All-CIC and received IBCA honorable mention all-state recognition.
Josh Balfour, Sr., Marion
Balfour was a consistent secondary scorer for the Giants and averaged just under 10 points per game. He also grabbed over four boards and dished out two assists per night while collecting more than a steal per game. Balfour was second-team All-NCC.
Hayden Ulerick, Jr., Mississinewa
Ulerick infused energy into the Indians all season, and especially so during their sectional championship run. He averaged 10 points along with more than five rebounds, three assists and two steals per game. Ulerick was honorable mention All-CIC.
Kian Hite, Sr., Oak Hill
Hite was thrust into an even more important leadership role when the Eagles lost seniors Clay McCorkle and Tristen Hayes to injuries prior to the season. He not only excelled there, but proved a secondary scoring pop of nearly 12 points per game. Hite’s energy and athleticism also allowed him to average more than three rebounds and assists per game. He was a first-team All-CIC performer.
Braxton Bowser, Jr., Eastbrook
Bowser earned an All-CIC honorable mention after helping the Panthers to five wins this season, three more than in the past two seasons combined. He averaged 11 points along with nearly six rebounds and two assists per game.
Justin Moore, Sr., Madison-Grant
Moore gave the Argylls an important post presence and a secondary scoring punch. He shot 64 percent from the field in averaging over nine points per game and he also collected nearly five rebounds a contest. Moore was honorable mention All-CIC.
Jase Howell, So., Madison-Grant
Small in stature but big in heart, Howell provided the Argylls with big doses of energy and toughness. He scored nearly seven points per game, dished out 120 assists (5.2 apg). He was honorable mention All-CIC.
Jett Engle, Jr., Eastbrook
Engle played a big part in Eastbrook’s improvement this year as a leader and playmaker. He averaged 10.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and nearly four assists in his first year playing point guard for the Panthers.
Matthew Goolsby, Sr., Marion
Goolsby’s explosive athleticism proved to be a big asset for the Giants. He averaged nine points per game along with more than four rebounds, nearly two per night on the offensive end.
Jermaine Woods, Sr., Marion
Woods was a steadying presence for the Giants and earned second team All-NCC honors. He averaged nearly five points and five rebounds per game and was one of the top shot blockers in the county.
Colin Yoder, Sr., Mississinewa
Yoder’s value to Ole Miss runs much deeper than statistics. He supplied the Indians with leadership, energy and a lot of toughness. Yoder averaged nearly eight points along with three rebounds and two assists.
Eastbrook: Isaac Rans, Jaxson VanBelkum, Brody Brodkorb
Madison-Grant: Jackson Manwell
Marion: Rodney Gipson, Cubie Jones
Mississinewa: Lucas Asbury
Oak Hill: Matthew Strange, Caleb Kroll