By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – With the snap of a finger, just like that, Colten Leach traveled back in time for a brief moment and saw a 14-year-old freshman. That poor kid had no clue what was ahead. The gristled Bedford North Lawrence senior, if possible, would have warned the oblivious of the good times, bad times ahead.
In the days of his youth, Leach was told what it means to be a man. Now he’s reached that age he’s just tried to do all those things the best he could. Freshman to senior. Like the knight guarding the Holy Grail in the third Indiana Jones saga, it’s his time to hand off the responsibility of protecting the program. “I knew you’d come.”
Senior Night, the final performance in BNL Fieldhouse for Leach and five teammates, will mark the farewells as the Stars (15-6) host Jasper (12-9) to conclude the regular season. While BNL’s focus has been diverted ahead to the Class 4A sectional opener against No.9 Jennings next week, this class deserves its honor night. It’s doubtful any graduating group has done more (winning a piece of the Hoosier Hills Conference title), with less, than this sixsome.
“It’s going to be a sad day,” Leach said. “We always knew it would come. It came like that. I never thought, my freshman year, it would already be my senior year. It’s crazy.”
While the term “role players” has gotten overused to the point of cliche, it accurately describes this BNL class. Every compartment is checked off: scoring star, floor general, glue guy, bench sparks and positive practice guy.
“Just a great group of kids, one of the most fun groups I’ve ever been around,” BNL coach Jeff Hein said. “They’re so tight-knit, they all play off one another and know what each other can do. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they’re such a cohesive unit. Always have been.
“We’re reaping the benefits because they were taught the right way at a young age. They’ve found a way to win despite a lot of obstacles.”
Leach (now with 1,100 career points, eighth on the all-time list, only 12 behind Joey Ray) has been a four-year fixture. Not only does he score, he leads the team in rebounding, assists and minutes played.
“Leach just does so many things, even when he’s not making shots,” Hein said. “It’s been hard to take him off the floor during his four years of high school, because he does so many things, the intangibles that people don’t realize he’s doing. He leads us in just about every statistical category. He defends well, his hands are so quick.
“And it’s incredible he’s been able to do what he can do despite the fact he’s had the injuries (two knees, one leg) he’s had. He’s one of the top 10 kids to ever put a BNL uniform on.”
Colton Staggs is another of the baby-face brigade (look back at photos from two years ago) who has matured into a quality competitor. The offense starts with the ball in his hands.
“With Staggs, the switch just clicked,” Hein said. “During a meeting with him his sophomore year, we told him what we needed from him, and he’s played well ever since. He defends hard. Plays hard, he’s a team guy. He can shoot, get to the basket.
“Those two guards have put us in the position, with 15 wins, because they’re hard-nosed kids who know how to play. They’re the best 1-2 punch in the conference.”
The others – Kaedyn Bennett, Jett Jones, Kole Bailey and Houston Corbin – often get overlooked but are no less valuable because of the niche they carved out to help the greater good.
“Bennett is the glue guy,” Hein said. “When you look in the box score, there’s nights he doesn’t score. But he’s the quarterback on the floor. He knows what we need to do, he’s our vocal leader. And he’s not afraid to ruffle feathers, not afraid to tell you what he thinks. That’s what true leadership is all about. He’s not the quickest cat in the world, but he has a high basketball IQ, as high as any high school kid you’ll ever see.
“Jett’s role has changed this year. He’s played well as an undersized post player. He just knows how to play. It’s amazing the things he gets done at his size, and he does it by being intelligent. Kole should be starting for us. If you put your five best kids on the floor, he’s one of them on most nights. But he accepts the role off the bench, he plays a lot better coming off the bench. He would rather sit there and watch the game a little bit, then come in and provide whatever we need. He fills a lot of holes and gaps for us. It’s great to have an unselfish sixth man.
“Houston is Mr. Positive. When the sectional draw came out, everyone is kind of shocked that the top three teams were in that bracket. And then Houston just started clapping, and said ‘Let’s go.’ There are nights he plays very little, but he’s great to have around, a good practice player, and he doesn’t mope or complain when he doesn’t play. He’s a great teammate. And happy to he a part of a team that has had success.”
Jasper would like to spoil the festivities. The Wildcats lost their entire starting lineup from a year ago, but they’re still tough and dangerous. Senior guard Carter Mundy leads them in scoring at 13.3, with other key production from junior Will Wallace (8.9) and 6-6 post Griffin Hile.
The Wildcats dominated last year’s clash at Jasper, powering to an easy 52-33 victory. Connor Foley had 21 points for the Wildcats, who shot 61 percent. Leach had 14 points, but the Stars were only 3 of 18 from long range.
JASPER at BNL
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: Jasper 12-9; BNL 15-6
Sagarin ratings: Jasper 74.78; BNL 82.74
Last meeting: Last year at Jasper, the Wildcats manhandled the Stars 52-33. Connor Foley had 21 points for Jasper, while Colten Leach had 14 for BNL
Previous game story: Muscular Wildcats swat off BNL
Game notes: The series is tied 11-11. BNL has won its last four Senior Night games.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Kaedyn Bennett 6-2 Sr.
F – Colten Leach 6-2 Sr.
F – Jett Jones 6-1 Sr.
G – Colton Staggs 6-0 Sr.
G – Houston Corbin 6-3 Sr.
F – Will Wallace 6-2 Jr.
C – Griffin Hile 6-6 Jr.
G – Carter Mundy 6-0 Sr.
G – Grant Young 5-9 Sr.
G – Charlie Kabrick 6-0 Sr.