For the second time in its two-year history, the late February meeting between the Brebeuf Braves and Roncalli Rebels will serve as the Circle City Conference’s championship game. Last year, the Braves earned a 60-51 victory in front of their home fans. This year, they are forced to travel down to the hostile environment of Roncalli’s “Woodshed.” Having won their last four contests (including a victory over #1 Tri-West), Myja White and the rest of Coach Todd Howard’s group feel like they are up to the task.
The Braves have been building towards this moment all season. According to USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin’s ratings system, they have played the fourth most difficult schedule in 3A. This was intentional as they knew they had to get prepared for the murderer’s row that is the Guerin Catholic Sectional. So far, they have largely passed with flying colors. Currently, Sagarin shows them as the third best team in their class, narrowly behind only New Castle and Evansville Bosse.
“We really like how we are playing. Looking at that last Friday in February, we wanted to be playing for a championship,” said Howard. “We know our schedule has prepared us, and we have worked extremely hard since March of last year. This time of year, if you are excited about your seniors and your depth, you are moving in the right direction, and we are very excited. We continue to get better each time we take the floor, and that can be rare in February.
There is definitely a lot to be excited about. Coming into the season, everyone knew White would be a force to contend with. Having averaged 14 points per game and shot 48% from behind the 3-point line as a junior, he was featured as a preseason player to watch by the Indy Star. The Miami (OH) commit has improved on those numbers this season while striving to lead by example.
“On the court, I am a leader,” White explained. “I take charge in what we do and make sure everyone is doing their job. For me, I must play like it is my last game. Whether if it is offense or defense, I have to help my team win.”
A big part of that has been aiding in the development of some key underclassmen. First among those is junior Spencer Reist. As a sophomore, he averaged a mere 4 points per game. This year he is averaging just under 14. His coach credits his work ethic.
“Spencer Reist has really upped his production. You can easily say, “Well, he’s had more minutes,” but what you don’t see is his work ethic and attention to detail in how he prepares. He has been our leading scorer for much of the year, and I don’t think you see that very often – he was our 8th/9th man last year. Now he’s a key contributor on one of the best teams in the state,” explained Howard.
“My role from last year to this year has changed a lot,” Reist detailed. “Last year I played mostly point guard, and my role was mainly to get us in to the offense. Now, with increased minutes and playing shooting guard, I am much more of a scoring threat within the offense. I have worked very hard to become one of the main contributors on our team, and my teammates and coaches have had confidence in me to make plays all year long.”
Reist’s fellow junior, Simon Banks, has also vastly improved. Banks leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.5 ppg (up from 10.4 last year). He has also managed to improve his rebounding and is dishing out more assists. His progression is even more impressive when one remembers he was a key member of Brebeuf’s state runner-up football team in the fall.
“Things always get tricky around football season as far as still working out in the gym, but Coach Howard and Coach Glunt did an unbelievable job of helping me out,” declared Banks. “This goes from giving me drills, unlocking the gym at 6am, meeting with me during breaks, and any other way they could help me develop my game. Also, the unselfish way that our team plays really makes it easy for a lot of players to score a lot of points. It is really an entire team effort.”
That last part has been a point of emphasis for Howard.
“Our identity and focus continues to be being unselfish on both ends of the floor (moving the ball on offense and working hard with multiple efforts on defense),” Howard reported.
Selflessness comes a little easier to this group as they truly appreciate playing for the name on the front of their jersey.
Banks explains, “It means a whole lot to me. When my brother transferred here four years ago, I knew from the first game that I went to that Brebeuf was a very special place. This school and this community has enabled me to do things and have opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have had anywhere else. This community has given me and my family so much love and care, and I won’t ever truly be able to repay it. What I can do now is play as hard as I can for our school, and for our community, and help this program be something that Brebeuf will cherish and love for a very long time.”
“To wear a Brebeuf Jersey means to not just play for yourself, but for God mainly. We do everything for the greater glory of God. We must repay Him for the talents he has given us, so we play for Him,” witnessed White. “We play for all the right reasons: to have fun, win state, and help our seniors have a year they will never forget.”
One memory he hopes to add is that of hoisting the conference championship trophy again after a big win over Roncalli. Sagarin shows the Braves as a slight favorite, but it is hard to know how much the home crowd will play a role in one of the smallest gyms in the city.
“Roncalli has had a great year, and their building is always a tough venue for the opposition. We are looking forward to it. We think it’s a great springboard into sectional play,” Howard shared.
“Winning the conference has been one of our team goals all year, so it would definitely mean a lot to me to be able to achieve it for our seniors,” confided Reist. “I have a lot of respect for Roncalli’s program and am friends with some of the players so I know how hard they work. To be able to win at their place would be a great accomplishment.”
White believes they can get it done.
“Everybody has to be locked in and ready to play. We have a strong and talented starting five and a bench that is unheard of. We all need to bring juice and be aggressive. If we do those things we will win the conference championship.”
All signs are pointing to Friday’s game being a barnburner in “The Woodshed.” Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30, but fans are advised to arrive early as seating will be limited.
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