Filling It Up: State scoring leader flourishing in larger role for Cougars

The graduation of Lane Lauderbaugh and his 26 points a game left a big void in a South Decatur offense that has become accustomed to putting up big numbers.

Hunter Johnson was no stranger to putting up some big numbers himself, but what he’s done this season goes beyond what he and Cougars coach Kendall Wildey may have envisioned. At 33.5 points a game, Johnson leads the state and ranks fourth in the nation in scoring, per MaxPreps.com.

“I don’t focus on that at all,” Johnson said. “I just try to be the best I can every day and let things fall in place, and if it happens, it happens. My role this year after we played over the summer was to score and help facilitate and take that leadership role to another level and just play hard and let the rest happen. I know my role was going to be to play has hard as I can and push everybody as hard as I can.”

Johnson’s senior season so far has been bookended by huge games. He began with back-to-back 42-point outings against Trinity Lutheran and Switzerland County and is coming off a 53-point outburst Saturday against Southwestern (Shelby).

The 53-point night not only broke Lauderbaugh’s single-game school record, it broke a Decatur County record that had stood since 1966. Johnson has been named this week’s Indiana Basketball Coaches Association District 3 Boys Player of the Week.

“I had no idea I had scored that many,” Johnson said. “I was just playing hard, and the ball just kept falling into my hands from my teammates. It just kept happening. It’s special to have your name beside the school record and the county record. It’s something crazy. It’s hard to explain because it’s something so special, and I feel blessed that I can be a part of that.”

Hunter Johnson

Johnson is home-grown, having always lived just outside Sardinia. His parents both graduated from South Decatur. His father Walt was a football player, and mother Debbie played basketball at South Decatur until early high school.

Hunter is in the middle of five brothers. Jacob played golf, and Justin played football for the Cougars. Ty is a sophomore who runs track, and fifth-grader Max plays football and basketball.

“Whenever I was younger, me and my brothers would have that mini hoop on our goals and act like we were the starting lineup getting announced,” Hunter said. “I’ve loved the game pretty much my entire life.”

Hunter also played football in elementary school, but has been strictly a basketball player since middle school.

“I always kind of knew basketball was my strong suit,” he said. “In elementary, I played the other sports just for fun, but in junior high, I knew I wanted to focus my time on basketball because I wanted to be the best I could at basketball.”

A point guard through elementary and junior high, Hunter evolved into a combo guard in high school, where he’s been a four-year starter.

“He’s also explosive, and he’s able to penetrate and drive to the basket,” Wildey said. “Because he’s able to drive inside, he gets fouled a lot and gets a lot of his points from the free-throw line. He scores from all over the court.”

Johnson hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere. He averaged 20.1 points as a sophomore, when the Cougars went 24-2 and won a sectional title before the regional was canceled at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then last year, he averaged 21.7 points for a 15-8 squad.

But those teams had Lauderbaugh putting up even bigger numbers, and the 2019-20 squad had point guard Dominic Walters. Those players drew most of the attention from defenders.

“He had a couple of years there where, even going back to Dominic, then last year, it was more Lane and Hunter, and (last year) Jacob Scruggs came on the scene,” Wildey said. “But this year without Lane and without Dominic, he’s had to be a leader in all aspects. Just in general directing people, getting them in all positions. He’s brought along people that haven’t had varsity experience. You have people like Dale Peters, who is coming along, and Kelby Shook and Luke Burton. Then, you already had (Evan) Wullenweber in there and Scruggs. He’s done a super job of taking on that leadership role.”

At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Johnson also leads South Decatur with 9.5 rebounds a game.

“We lost a lot of rebounding with Lauderbaugh, and we wondered where those rebounds were going to come from,” Wildey said. “(Johnson has) stepped it up in a lot of ways for us. As a shooting guard, that’s not easy to do. Because of his strength and his size, he also has to guard the opponent’s best post player, and he’s done a good job of that without getting in foul trouble.”

As was the case with Lauderbaugh, who now is playing at a prep school in North Carolina, the big college programs have yet to take notice. Johnson has offers from Division III DePauw, Franklin, Wabash and Anderson and NAIA Calumet and has talked to a few other schools.

“It’s really started to pick up in the last couple of weeks since those holiday tournaments and this weekend,” Wildey said. “He’s getting a lot of interest from the D-IIIs — Marian, DePauw, Anderson, Hanover, Grace Christian in Michigan. A junior college in Iowa just requested film. We’re hoping some NAIA and some D-IIs would get on board where he can get some scholarship money. He’s a great student, and to be able to get an education and play for four years would be great.”

With nine regular-season games, plus the tournament, remaining, Johnson sits second on the Cougars’ all-time scoring list with 1,672 points. Lauderbaugh tops the list at 1,888, meaning Johnson needs to average 21.6 points over the next 10 games to reach that mark.

But Johnson isn’t focused on that. He is intent on helping South Decatur, which sits 7-7 going into Saturday’s game with Greensburg, making a late-season run to get ready for the sectional. The Cougars’ schedule includes games Jan. 28 at Hauser and Feb. 3 at home against Columbus North.

“We definitely just focus on one game at a time and get as much momentum as we can and go into the tournament with as much momentum as we can and make deep run and go as far as we can,” Johnson said. “Every day in practice, focus on the details and the plan and work hard in practice. Then, we’ll just trust the process and let the work that we do in practice take over in the games.”

If South Decatur is able to make a deep postseason run, and Johnson continues to put up lofty numbers, it isn’t inconceivable that he could become the school’s first Indiana All-Star.

“It would definitely mean absolutely everything to me,” he said. “Since starting basketball, you go to schools, and you see the Indiana All-Star jerseys hanging up. I’ve always wanted to have one of those hanging up with my name in the South Decatur gym.”