The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 02, 2021 1:00 am

Boys Basketball: NECC, NE8, ACAC

Wisconsin recruit has more goals for Cougars

JOSH PATTERSON | For The Journal Gazette

A repeat 25 years in the making, but still plenty left to accomplish. Central Noble senior Connor Essegian announced in September his plans to play college basketball at Wisconsin, the first boys basketball player out of the Northeast Corner Conference to join a Big Ten squad since Angola's Charlie Wills also played at Wisconsin after graduation in 1997.

Essegian arrived at his decision on the back of tremendous success the past two seasons when he led the Cougars to a 46-7 record over that span. And while big questions remain regarding the senior individually (does his game include enough physicality and defensive prowess to compete in the Big Ten?) and for Central Noble as a team (can the Cougars make a deep postseason run despite not having won a sectional during Essegian's time in Albion?), the dark horse Mr. Basketball candidate plans to answer both in the affirmative.

“The main thing is can I play at that speed with the strength and the athleticism,” Essegian said. “I played with Indiana Elite to prove that (I could). Me being at a 2A school, people said I wasn't legit, but I was able to prove to people and myself that I can do that. At the same time, I do have to get stronger and play quicker to play at my max potential.”

To get over that sectional hump, Central Noble will likely face at least one of its two main challengers for the NECC title in Westview and Eastside. The Warriors return veteran coach Rob Yoder, who departed the program after the 2019-20 season following a 17-year career that included 303 victories, nine sectionals, four regionals and a semistate championship.

Although Eastside sees little roster carryover from the football team that won the first regional title in school history this fall, the basketball team returns everyone from a 17-win season a year ago along with Logan Fry, who sat out last season with an injury after a sophomore season in 2019-20 that earned him praise as Eastside's best player, according to Central Noble coach John Bodey.

“Until (Westview is) not there, they're always going to be there,” Bodey said. “But the team that everyone's missing is Eastside. Nobody wants to talk about Eastside. But I think they're darned good. There's still seven to eight teams that can knock you off on any given night. My first year in the conference, six teams won a sectional. The NECC has not been easy and will not be easy.”

In addition to the rigors of navigating an 11-game conference schedule and a conference tournament that runs through four rounds in five days, Central Noble will face one of the state's premier small-school programs in defending Class A champion Barr-Reeve at the Forum Tipoff Classic on Dec. 11 at the Southport Fieldhouse. The Cougars anticipate a stiff challenge to close out the calendar year as well, hosting Westview on New Year's Eve.

“We're in a situation where it should not take Connor to score 30 to 40 on a night for us to win,” Bodey said. “We have to develop a team that trusts each other and moves the ball. As a team, we can't stand and watch Connor. We need everybody active and everybody participating.

“(Connor's) always been able to shoot, but now he shoots it really well off the drive and he attacks more. He's definitely grown defensively, and I just think his overall game has improved since day one.” 

NECC Players To Watch

Connor Essegian, Central Noble: The Wisconsin recruit notched the first 600-point season in Noble County prep history as a sophomore, then averaged 24 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists as a junior.

Logan Fry, Eastside: The senior returns after missing the last season with an injury. As a sophomore, Fry averaged 10.7 points for the Blazers.

Austin Cripe, West Noble: The junior netted 18.3 points per game last year as just one of four players to see time in every game during the Chargers' 7-4 NECC season.

Logan Brace, Fremont: The senior scored 12 and snared eight boards a game last year as the Eagles won their first sectional championship since 2005.

Gabe Trevino, Eastside: The Blazer returns for his final season off a 14-point-per-game output last year and a reputation as one of the NECC's best defenders. 

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