Fighting Adversity / North’s Barker repeats as The Republic Boys Basketball Player of the Year

A pair of 24-day layoffs kept Blake Barker and the Columbus North boys basketball team from fully hitting its stride this season.

Still, Barker was able to put together a solid senior season to help the Bull Dogs win a share of the Conference Indiana championship. The 6-foot-1 guard is The Republic Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.

“I felt like it went well with our circumstances,” Barker said. “We were hit with adversity. We had a good team to battle against adversity. It definitely wasn’t the ending that we wanted or that I wanted, but I felt like as a team, we worked hard in practice, we played hard and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to be on because the team was amazing.”

Barker’s last high school game may have been one of his best. He scored 29 points in a first-round sectional loss to Bloomington North, despite severely spraining an ankle in practice six days earlier.

“It affected me quite a bit,” Barker said. “I couldn’t move like I had in prior games. It was tender and really taped up, and we tried to immobilize it as much as we could just to not let any pain get through there, but certain cuts and certain movements and jumping was pretty difficult. But I made the most of what I could and just gave it everything I had, but it definitely was a challenge playing on that ankle. We didn’t play our best game as a team, but part of that was because of the COVID.”

Prior to that sectional game, North had practiced for a little more than a week after spending the previous two weeks in quarantine. The Bull Dogs also spent two weeks in December in quarantine and weren’t at the top of their game when they returned from a 24-day layoff in a loss at Lawrence Central.

“I think it was difficult for some of our guys,” Barker said. “Me and Cooper (Horn) and a couple other kids play travel basketball, and sometimes, you might not play for a couple weeks and then you’ll play the next weekend, so I think some of the guys that had played travel basketball were able to get back into the season a little quicker than the other guys. But I felt like whenever we came back, our practices were really good. They were really intense. We battled through that. It was different than what I had been through in any other season.”

Barker led the 11-5 Bull Dogs with 19.2 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. He added 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals in earning All-Conference Indiana and Indiana Basketball Coaches Association honorable mention All-State honors.

“Blake had an outstanding season,” North coach Paul Ferguson said. “He led us in many statistical categories and helped us win the conference title. For a guard to average 7.5 rebounds a game, that was crucial. I would have liked to see what he could have accomplished with a full slate of games.”

Barker felt he became a more complete player this season.

“I started to really analyze the game better and start to add different things to my game — playing in the post a little bit more, rebounding better, trying to read the floor and get my teammates the ball in the right spot,” Barker said. “I think those are things that I added to my game.”

Despite COVID restrictions, Barker was able to play for NBA star Eric Gordon’s EG10 travel team last summer. The team, however, did not travel out of state much in 2020.

“I felt like I played good competition during the summer,” Barker said. “The biggest thing for me was college exposure. That was extremely limited during the times we were playing. No colleges were allowed at all. So that was very different and kind of hard at first. But God pulled through for me and got that done.”

Although he has not yet visited the West Point campus, Barker committed in August to play collegiately at Army. Black Knights coaches have been following Barker since he was eighth-grader playing in open gyms at North when Alex King was a senior. King just wrapped up his four-year career at Army.

With 1,380 career points, Barker finished his career second on North’s all-time scoring list behind Josh Speidel’s 1,512.

“Blake over the last couple of years has helped change the culture of our program,” Ferguson said. “He has left a legacy for the young guys to follow. So it’s been exciting for me to see his work ethic and his competitiveness and how many young guys have seen that and want to emulate him.”

Barker is thankful for everything that he was able to do during his time with the Bull Dogs.

“I really thought that the teams that I played on were phenomenal,” Barker said. “I had great teammates throughout the years. I had a great coaching staff, and I couldn’t do anything without my family, especially my mom. I’m just really thankful for everything that I was able to accomplish here and hopefully leave a legacy.”

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The Republic All-Area Boys Basketball team:

Blake Barker, Columbus North: The senior led the Bull Dogs with 19.2 points and 7.5 rebounds and added 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals a game.

Reese Harmon, Columbus North: The senior averaged 10.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals and led the Bull Dogs with 5.3 assists.

Cooper Horn, Columbus North: The sophomore averaged 11.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists and led the Bull Dogs with 1.6 steals.

Tyler Boyer, Columbus East: The senior led the Olympians with 14.5 points and added 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists.

Daniel Murphy, Columbus East: The senior averaged 10.4 points and led the Olympians with 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Bryce Bates, Hauser: The junior led the Jets with 13.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals and added 2.5 assists.

Carson McNulty, Jennings County: The junior led the Panthers with 11.1 points and 1.2 assists and averaged 2.4 rebounds.

Tyler Vogel, Jennings County: The junior averaged 10.7 points and led the Panthers with 8.8 rebounds.

Keegan Manowitz, Jennings County: The sophomore averaged 10.5 points and 3.1 rebounds and led the Panthers with 6.0 assists and 1.1 steals.

Lane Lauderbaugh, South Decatur: The senior led the Cougars with 25.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.4 steals.

Hunter Johnson, South Decatur: The junior averaged 21.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals.

Tyler Goecker, Trinity Lutheran: The senior led the Cougars with 17.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 steals.

Hudson Norton, Trinity Lutheran: The sophomore averaged 15.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals.

Jack Marksberry, Trinity Lutheran: The senior averaged 13.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

Caleb Dewey, Edinburgh: The sophomore led the Lancers with 14.3 points, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals and added 4.5 rebounds.

Travis Jones, Edinburgh: The junior averaged 11.3 points, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals and led the Lancers with 7.6 rebounds.

Honorable mention

Brown County: Travis Ely, Carter Kelly. Columbus Christian: Jacob Conrad, Gabe Ridder. Columbus East: Jacob Pierce. Columbus North: Sam King, Jakub Trusina. Edinburgh: Noah Detling, Isaac Roberts. Hauser: Koby Johnson. Jennings County: Owen Law. South Decatur: Jacob Scruggs, Tyler Sporleder. Trinity Lutheran: Mitchell Hackman.