Five Players to Watch

Michael Ertel, Mt. Vernon

Senior guard

Ertel can flat out play with the best of them. The 6-foot-1 veteran point guard is heading to play Division I basketball at the University of Louisiana-Monroe and is set for a stellar senior campaign after scoring 30 points in Mt. Vernon’s double-overtime loss to Whiteland on Tuesday. He averaged a team-high 15.8 points and 3.7 assists per game last season for the 18-5 Marauders.

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A crafty, left-handed guard, Ertel can score with the best guards in the state. Unselfish, too, the quick and shifty floor leader dished out nine assists twice last season in addition to scoring a season-high 28 points against Hoosier Heritage Conference foe Shelbyville.

With another solid campaign, Ertel could play his way onto the Indiana All-Star team after being named a Junior Indiana All-Star last season. Ertel made 51 threes a season ago (39 percent) and shot 90 percent from the free-throw line. He played on the Indiana Elite AAU team this summer.

Will O’Connor, Greenfield-Central

Junior forward

O’Connor erupted for a career-high 27 points in Greenfield-Central’s season-opening loss to Beech Grove and showed what could be a promising two seasons of high school left for the long and lanky forward. At 6-foot-6, O’Connor is able to shoot over defenders from the outside and can cause problems in the passing lanes defensively.

As the team’s sixth man last season as a sophomore, he averaged 5.0 ppg and 1.6 rpg for the 20-5, senior-laden Cougars. O’Connor can also get to the rim when given a chance and hits his free throws at a high rate when fouled. As he gets stronger with the ball and more comfortable in his new role, the basketball-savvy forward will be one of the toughest matchups in the area. He netted 21 of his 27 points against the Hornets in the second half and can get hot in a hurry.

Last season, he had a season-high 17 points against Avon and made four threes, twice. O’Connor finished his sophomore campaign shooting 44 percent from the field and will undoubtedly be the team’s go-to threat this season.

Addison True, Eastern Hancock

Junior guard

True is one of the top athletes in the county and basketball seems to be his best sport. He led the team in scoring a season ago at 16.1 ppg and gets to the rim with grace. Even more impressive, at 5-foot-10, True led the team in rebounding, as well, at 7.1 per content. He has quick hops off the floor with a long reach and strong hands — which also allows him to shoot the ball with little trouble. He made 45 threes as a sophomore at a 40 percent clip and was named an IBCA Top 100 underclassmen. True also led the team in assists (3.0) and steals (2.4) last season and is a pesky defender with a nose for the ball. He will benefit from playing with a pure point guard this season in junior Brycen Napier, who is up from the junior varsity level after transferring to Eastern Hancock last year. True scored a season-high 23 points against Edinburgh and scored 15 or more points 17 times. He missed double figures just twice and had six assists three times. The aggressive guard also made 83 percent of his free throws.

Jalen Qualkinbush, New Palestine

Senior guard/forward

Qualkinbush is a sneaky athlete who has a knack for being in the right spot at the right time. He makes the extra pass and can knife to the rim when needed. A lefty, the 6-foot-1 Qualkinbush also can extend his game to the 3-point line and can knock down shots from a variety of places on the floor. He averaged 7.7 ppg last season, which was second on the team behind 2016 graduate Cody Long.

Qualkinbush will be counted on to help lead New Palestine on both ends of the floor with junior Gavin Hausz out with an ACL injury. Hausz also averaged 7.7 ppg last season. Qualkinbush had a season-high 19 points against Delta and reached double figures six times last season. He shot 36 percent from the free-throw line and 45 percent from 2-point range. Qualkinbush also averaged 2.5 rpg and .9 apg as a junior and will be a senior leader for a young Dragons team.

Erick Shepherd, Mt. Vernon senior forward

The 6-foot-6 Shepherd has an old man’s game, smooth and skilled around the basket, and is a terrific athlete. An intimidating defender, Shepherd can change the game with his length, including decisive blocks and thunderous dunks. He averaged 13.3 ppg and 5.8 rpg last season and registered nearly one block per outing.

Shepherd had a season-high 19 points, twice, against Frankton and Hamilton Heights, and scored in double figures in 17 of the team’s 23 games. He made eight threes last season, as well, and shot 57 percent from 2-point range and 73 percent from the free throw line. Capable of beating opposing big men down the floor, Shepherd tallied a double-double in four games, including a 16-point, 12-rebound effort against New Castle in sectional play.

He will be even more of a focal point of the offense this season with the graduation of Miles Wayer and Michael Thompson, who both scored around 9 ppg for the Marauders in 2016.

Five Games to Watch

New Palestine at Eastern Hancock, 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Lot of athletes in this one. Could be an up-and-down game with a lot of scoring. Plus, it is the first home game of the season for Eastern Hancock and the first game of the season, period, for New Palestine. The two have not played since the 2012-13 season, a 59-34 win for the Dragons.

Mt. Vernon vs. Castle at Southport, noon Saturday, Dec. 10

Senior guard Michael Ertel and company invade one of the state’s most historic gyms to face Castle, which finished 19-6 last season. This game is one of six in the Tip-Off Classic, which includes North Central against New Albany following the Marauders game.

Eastern Hancock at Knightstown, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16

If you like small town basketball, this is a can’t-miss game. Last season in front of a packed house, the Royals lost 70-64. The schools are located less than 10 miles apart, which has created a family-like rivalry between the pair.

Greenfield-Central at Mt. Vernon, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6

Another county game that will draw a big crowd. Last season, Mt. Vernon won 47-40. The Marauders have won four of the last five meetings between the schools. Greenfield-Central took a bigger hit to its roster with graduation but it never seems to matter in county battles.

Mt. Vernon vs. Connersville, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27

The teams could meet in the sectional and both return enough talent to win it. Last season, Mt. Vernon went on the road and stole a 44-38 win. However, Connersville won the sectional championship at New Castle. The win last season over the Spartans was the first for the Marauders in three years.

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or