Bryce Lienhoop was a big-time scorer and rebounder for Columbus East last season.
This year, Lienhoop has also become a big-time passer for the Olympians.
The 6-foot-6 senior Saint Francis recruit has developed an all-around game that has given opponents fits. It’s a big reason why East is having its best season in more than a decade.
“As I’ve played this game, I’m starting to see the floor a little better than I have in the past, and it’s making the game easier for me,” Lienhoop said. “I’m letting it come to me.”
Not only is Lienhoop averaging 15.9 points and a team-high 11.5 rebounds a game for the 11-3 Olympians, he is their top assist man with 4.5 a game. He also leads the team with 3.0 blocks and ranks second with 1.4 steals.
“He sees the floor well,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “He came up as a guard and grew instead of being a post the whole time.”
After playing shooting guard and small forward at Northside Middle School, Lienhoop hit a growth spurt and moved inside. A four-year starter, he has scored 927 career points while playing all over the floor for the Olympians.
“Bryce plays everywhere for us,” Chitty said. “He can bring the ball up for us, he can play the wing, he can play inside. He’s a very versatile player. Bloomington North pressed us, and a lot of times, Bryce brought it up because they denied our guards.”
In that 78-67 win over Bloomington North on Feb. 1, Lienhoop recorded 17 points, 18 rebounds and 12 assists. But that wasn’t his first career triple-double. His sophomore year, Lienhoop was three assists away from averaging a triple-double.
“His junior year, his assists fell off a little bit because his points went up,” Chitty said. “Then, early in (this) year, he scored a lot of points for us, but now, we’re getting some other guys stepping up, and Bryce is a very unselfish player and he wants his team to win, so I think that’s one of the most intangible things about him that makes him such a great player.”
“I have faith in all those guys when I pass them the ball,” Lienhoop said. “I think they can score wherever they are.”
Those players include junior Connor Umphress, who leads the team with 18.4 points a game, as well as junior Nate Nolting (8.8) and sophomores Parker Chitty (8.5) and Kevin Williams (7.2).
“(Lienhoop) realizes that he’s our go-to guy, and whenever we give it to Bryce, they collapse on him and he realizes that us other guys, we have to step up and knock down shots as he kicks it out to us,” Parker Chitty said. “That opens things up. If we’re hitting our shots, it gets him open, and he kicks it out to us.”
“A lot of people focus on Bryce, and it gives everybody more opportunities,” Umphress said. “It’s not even necessarily that they focus on Bryce, but Bryce creates everything for our offense. He sees the floor, he rebounds, he scores, he plays defense. He does everything for us. He’s a very exciting player to watch, and he’s top-notch.”
Lienhoop is shooting 61 percent from the field and 71 percent from the free-throw line.
“He plays to his strengths,” his coach said. “We work on outside shooting with him every day. He knows the closer you get to the basket, the higher percentage it is. He’s a smart kid.”
After missing a game because of shingles and playing through the illness for a couple of other games last month, Lienhoop is back to full health.
“The shingles take away your immune system, so it’s taken me some time go get back in it,” Lienhoop said. “At first, I didn’t think it was anything. I thought it was a burn or something, but then I went to doctor and found out what it was. I’ll do whatever I can do to play for this team. Last weekend, I felt more like myself than I had been.”
East’s success so far might be a surprise to some, considering Lienhoop is the only returning full-time starter from a team that went 14-7 last season.
“I think we’re doing better than a lot of people expected, but we all expected to do well here,” Lienhoop said. “I think we’re playing pretty well right now. We just have to work out a few things.”