Bishop Luers senior Lukas North has no doubt about it: The rest of the SAC did not take the Knights seriously last season – and their opponents paid the price.
“They were brushing us off,” North said. “They were marking us off as a win before we even walked in the gym.”
There's not a risk of that happening this season, not after the Knights clinched the conference regular season title by going 7-2, losing only to Homestead in the conference opener and South Side in February.
Their 15-7 record was a marked improvement from the 4-win season in 2018-19, when Bishop Luers beat only North Side in league play.
The question now is whether that league title was the first rumbling from a Bishop Luers program on the rise, or a high-water mark for the next few years.
The Knights return Naylon Thompson, who was the team's leading scorer (16.0 points per game) and rebounder (6.4), as well as North and Thompson's brother Nick, who averaged 5.9 points as a freshman. But Bishop Luers has still lost six seniors, who together accounted for 42.2 of the Knights' 63.3 points per game last season.
The Knights got a reminder of how crucial those seniors were at the tail end of last season, when DeMarcus Hudson seriously injured his foot in a the win over North Side that clinched the conference title. The Knights won close games over Bellmont and New Haven without him, but were eliminated by Leo in the first round of the sectional tournament.
The Knights hope to get extra help on the floor this season from junior Carson Clark, although he has not yet joined the basketball team at practice because he is still preparing for the football state finals today.
“When you talk to him, the kid is a phenomenal leader,” coach Fonso White said of the junior quarterback. “He knows how to talk to guys. He knows how to get guys motivated. He knows what to say at the right time, so he kind of gives you that other coach on the floor – or on the field, for that matter – to help settle things down when things aren't going well, and is able to help guys break through to that next level.”
Several other football players, including Johnny Sewell, Nick Thompson, Nelson Knapke and Da'Von Doughty, are expected to join the basketball team after the football state finals. That will still put the Knights well behind most other local schools in terms of basketball practices with the majority of the team, so their first two scheduled games (against Canterbury and Mishawaka Marian) will have to be delayed and the season will begin Dec. 8 at Leo. But White said the experience for the football playoffs will pay dividends for the basketball team down the road.
“I was telling the guys, three of the things we look at is character, unselfishness and toughness,” White said. “And at the end of the day, when you get guys coming from football who are having success, they are bringing that mental toughness. If there's a guy that's weak on the mental side of things, they can bring that to the table and say hey, this is what we've got to do, because we've been in this situation before. Last year, we had to fight through those things.”
White said he hopes the Knights will be a stronger rebounding team this year, and thinks that transfer Omare Bates will be able to catalyze that.
“We've got a little bit of size with the transfer with Omare Bates. He gives us a nice, strong inside post game that we didn't have last year.” White said. “Last year we were all perimeter and, and we couldn't really do much from the outside from the standpoint of if we didn't have an inside game to get people to focus on the inside game so we could get the open outside shot. With Bates, he's going to give us a strong rebounder and that strong inside scorer that we need to take some of the pressure off the guys on the outside.”
North said he has his eyes on a sectional title, and “from there the sky is the limit.”
5 Players to Watch
Luke Goode, Homestead: The senior Illinois commit led the Spartans with 17.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in his junior year.
Fletcher Loyer, Homestead: The junior transferred from Clarkston, Michigan, to Homestead over the summer, and committed to Purdue on Monday.
Naylon Thompson, Bishop Luers: The senior was the scoring leader for the Knights as they became the surprise SAC regular season champions.
Jalen Jackson, Carroll: Now a junior, Jackson led an experienced Carroll team in scoring as a sophomore, averaging 11.8 points per game. And with another year of experience and another year of work in the weight room, he should be even more of a problem for opponents this season.
Brauntae Johnson, North Side: Yes, he's just a freshman. But Johnson turned heads on the football field this fall, and did so again in the Legends season opener on Wednesday, scoring 26 points with 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals against Mississinewa.