INDIANAPOLIS – Blackhawk Christian climbed the mountain last season, running through Class A on the way to the first state title in program history.
Now comes the really difficult part: doing it again.
The Braves move up to Class 2A for the 2019-20 season and after their 28-2 campaign and state title, they will have a target on their backs.
They lose senior leader Frankie Davidson, son of coach Marc Davidson, but return one of the best big men in the country in 6-foot-8 Caleb Furst, as well as a capable shooting guard in Zane Burke. The pair of rising juniors participated in the IHSAA-IBCA Underclassman Showcase at Ben Davis last month in Indianapolis.
“Every year for the upperclassman, (the responsibility) gets bigger,” Furst said of his team's title defense. “Not just the things you have to do (on the court), but leadership-wise as well. So we're trying to work on that.
“I'm trying to talk a lot more, be more of a vocal leader, which is something I really worked on last year. I feel I did a pretty good job at it, but you can always get better.”
Furst, who is ranked the No. 33 player in the 2021 recruiting class and the No. 2 player in Indiana, per 247sports.com, has been playing up a year with rising seniors on the EYBL circuit, getting used to the physicality at the higher level.
He averaged 18.7 points and 8.9 rebounds as a sophomore, combining with Davidson to form a potent 1-2 punch. Now, he'll have to carry much more of the scoring load, even as teams send every kind of defense they can think of at him.
“We love having a target on our back,” said Furst, who has scholarship offers from Indiana and Purdue, among others. “It's great. Every game's the same, though, you want to go out and win, so that's going to be our goal every game.”
Burke is not a nationally ranked prospect like his Braves' teammate, but he was impressive at the Underclassman Showcase.
The 6-2 guard is a confident player who's shown he's capable of hitting from well beyond the 3-point line and always ready to shoot when he catches.
After hitting one 3-pointer, a college coach remarked to another near him: “Now that's a quick release.”
When he doesn't have the ball, Burke is always looking to screen for a teammate and he's a willing passer. At the showcase, he took on the task of guarding national top 100 recruit and Indiana target Anthony Leal and held his own.
“He's a really good player,” Burke said of Leal. “This year (2018-19), I took on most of the defensive, (guarding) the best players, and I'm glad I could play against a player of his caliber.
“(Players of his caliber), their athletic ability is over the roof, compared to everyone else's, so he was a lot quicker and stronger compared to other kids I've guarded.”
Burke will have to step in and take on an expanded role if the Braves are to find success again at the higher level. He transferred from Churubusco before the 2018-19 season and averaged 12.9 points and 3.6 rebounds, including a 10-point performance in the state title game against Barr-Reeve.
The pick-and-roll game with Burke and Furst, two players who can score from all over the court, opens up plenty of options for Blackhawk.
“(Coach Davidson) goes by a motto of 'Humble and Hungry,'” Burke said. “So we're just going to maintain that and throughout the year we're just going to get better as a team.”