Marked Man: Panther junior overcomes defenses, earns The Republic Boys Basketball Player of the Year honor

Jennings County’s Carter Kent is The Republic Boys Basketball Player of the Year. He is pictured at The Republic in Columbus, Ind., Monday, March 11, 2024.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic

As the only returning starter from a regional championship team, Carter Kent was the focal point of most defenses he’s faced this season.

That didn’t stop the Jennings County junior from putting up some big numbers. The 5-foot-10 guard was one of the state’s leading scorers at nearly 25 points a game.

“I found a way to get to my spots this year, and with my teammates’ help, I was able to knock down some shots,” said Kent, this year’s The Republic Boys Basketball Player of the Year. “When (defenses) were trying to take me away, my teammates were able to knock down some shots, so they kind of had to come out of it. And even when they were in it, I just found a way to redistribute and get my teammates open.”

Kent was far from a one-dimensional player for the Panthers. He led the team in assists (5.8) and steals (1.8) and was second on the team in rebounds (5.3).

“My freshman and sophomore year, I was mainly just shooting 3s, and this year, I made a big jump,” Kent said. “I think something that’s underrated about me is my ability to pass. Especially when my teammates were hitting shots, it makes me look really good. I think I can make the right reads and see things other people don’t see on the basketball floor.”

After playing shooting guard for his first two years, Kent assumed some of the point guard duties this season following the graduation of his cousin, Keegan Manowitz.

“I think I’m more of a point guard than a shooting guard,” Kent said. “I’m going to have to be (in college), especially with my height. The main thing I’m going to have to improve on to become a point guard is becoming physically stronger. At the next level, they’re going to be bigger than me.”

Following his sophomore year, Kent grew two inches and put on about 20 pounds.

“He puts in more time and energy than probably anybody I’ve ever seen in my life,” said his father Rob Kent, who coached the Panthers this season. “He puts in time and effort weightlifting and shooting.”

Carter had played with last year’s group of seniors since he was in first grade and they were in third grade.

“That’s why we were a pretty good group last year,” Carter said. “It was different for sure. Last year, everyone had played together, and we were friends off the court. This year’s group was a little bit different, and everybody kind of came together as a group at the end of the year.”

Jennings was hoping for another big season this year, but had a major setback when last year’s sixth-man, sophomore Parker Elmore, tore an ACL during football season.

“Especially when Elmore got hurt, he was going to be the center of attention then, to anybody that we played,” Rob Kent said. “He saw a lot of junk defenses. We actually welcomed the double teams, so hopefully, he could distribute the ball and the guys downstream could get some looks.”

“Parker being out was big for us this year,” Carter added. “Dorian (Hacker) was a big help this year. A lot of people stepped up this year. Cole (Sigler) scored well this year for us and had a big jump from last year.”

After going 24-3 in the 2022-23 season, the Panthers went 11-14 this year. Half of their losses came by eight points or fewer.

“We lost some games that we shouldn’t have lost,” Carter said. “It was tough losing six seniors. We lost leadership. We lost four starters. But we just didn’t meet the expectations that we set for ourselves this year.”

Carter currently is playing travel basketball for Grand Park Premier. He has talked to some NAIA and Division-II schools about playing in college.

Under the IHSAA’s new classification system, Jennings will be moving down from Class 4A to 3A next year. That could open an easier path for the Panthers to make a run similar to the one they did last season.

“Next year, moving to 3A, the sky is the limit for us,” Rob Kent said. “Him and Parker next year, it’s good opportunities for Jennings County in the future.”

The 2023-24 Republic All-Area Boys Basketball team:

Carter Kent, Jennings County: The junior led the Panthers with 24.8 points, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals and added 5.3 rebounds.

Cole Sigler, Jennings County: The senior averaged 10.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals.

Jack Fischvogt, Columbus East: The senior averaged 9.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists.

Keaton Lawson, Columbus East: The sophomore led the Olympians with 10.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks.

Caleb Ferguson, Columbus North: The sophomore led the Bull Dogs with 12.5 points, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals and averaged 3.9 rebounds.

Garrett Long, Columbus North: The junior averaged 8.8 points and led the Bull Dogs with 4.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks.

Ledger Gelfius, Hauser: The junior led the Jets with 12.0 points and averaged 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals.

Kam Blair, Hauser: The sophomore averaged 10.0 points and and led the Jets with 6.1 rebounds.

Jacob Scruggs, South Decatur: The senior led the Cougars with 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.6 steals.

Connor Ramey, Edinburgh: The junior led the Lancers with 18.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.3 steals.

Eli Wrightsman, Brown County: The sophomore led the Eagles with 15.0 points and averaged 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals.

Peyton Walden, Columbus Christian: The senior led the Crusaders with 16.4 points and 10.8 rebounds and averaged 1.1 steals.

Hudson Lang, Trinity Lutheran: The freshman led the Cougars with 15.0 points and 1.5 steals and averaged 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

Kowan Gross, Trinity Lutheran: The senior averaged 10.0 points and led the Cougars with 5.3 rebounds.

Honorable mention

Brown County: Cash Harden. Columbus Christian: Josh Conrad, Cam Pritchard. Columbus East: Mason Reeves, Carter Patterson. Columbus North: Nate Enneking. Edinburgh: Austin Brockman, Rylan Londeree. Hauser: Stryker Gill, Taeshaun Tungate. Jennings County: Austin Byford, Dorian Hacker. South Decatur: Colby Rathburn. Trinity Lutheran: Reed Mellencamp, Levi Pottschmidt.