As I proceeded with the recently completed “Top 25 of the Last 25″ project — in which I selected, sequenced and shared reviews of my choices for the Top 25 Elkhart County boys basketball players of the last 25 years (those who graduated from 1988 to 2012) — I was asked a few times about the other schools, the non-county ones, that The Elkhart Truth counts as coverage schools in Indiana.
Namely, Penn, Marian, Westview and Wawasee.
Some readers thought those schools should’ve been included. Some asked where specific players from those schools would’ve ranked.
I certainly considered including them, but my reasoning for not doing so was three-pronged.
1) There isn’t the same intimacy when including them as there is within Elkhart County. No, not all the county schools play each other — and the non-county schools named above do play a few of the county schools — but mostly it’s the county ones frequently crossing paths directly or indirectly.
2) I wanted to feature as many players as I could from within our county and realized even by stopping at 25 I was already painfully leaving out some sensational players. I didn’t want to leave out still more.
3) I promised I was going to share my choices for the top players from those other schools at some point anyway.
Well, that point is now.
The exception is Wawasee, which we have not been covering the full 25 years, so maybe we’ll revisit Wawasee at some future point.
Except for my No. 1 below, I’m also not going to go into quite the same detail right now that I did with the 26 players (tie at No. 25) I reviewed from Elkhart County. Suffice it to say that these were all special players as well.
I’ll rate five, and name five others, though it was hard to stop there. At Westview and Penn especially, basketball heritages abound.
In choosing the second five below, just like with many of the Elkhart County players, the main challenge in multiple instances involved assessing a given player’s one extraordinary year against another player’s multi-year significant contributions. With the particular players I ultimately leaned to here, the multi-year contributions happened to oh-so-slightly win out.
The first five, meanwhile, weren’t hard at all. Each posted at least one extraordinary year or more, and significant multi-year contributions.
Bear in mind that, just as with the county selections, active players are not eligible, as their high school bodies of work are not completed. Otherwise, you’d be seeing McDonald’s All-American Demetrius Jackson of Marian at 1 or 2 on this list.
Here they are:
No. 1 – Ryan Yoder (Westview 1990)
I did already mention several weeks ago that if we had included all schools rather than just the county, Ryan Yoder would’ve rated a firm No. 3 for me behind only Shawn Kemp and Jamar Johnson. The 5-foot-10 Yoder, speeding into the lane in a virtually squatted position, was virtually impossible to stop without help, sometimes with it. He was the best dribble-penetrator I’ve ever covered from within the area, one of the two or three best ball-handlers overall, one of the two or three best dishers and an exceptional shooter, averaging 27.5 points as a senior for a 21-3 club. He was also the second-best guard in the state that season behind none other than Johnson, is the single-worst Indiana All-Star snub in all my time covering basketball, and was foolishly overlooked by colleges closer to home before going on to star at Colorado State. As a three-year starter at Westview while splitting his career under coaches Troy Neely and Gerald Eash, Yoder led the Warriors in scoring each of those years, while still piling up the assists, for teams that went a combined 59-15, including 28-0 in NECC play. The two-time All-Area first-teamer finished with 1,594 career points and steered the David vs. Goliath blowout of Warsaw in a 1989 Elkhart Regional semifinal. Collegiately, the three-year starter CSU starter and 1994 All-WAC first-teamer is still the Rams’ all-time assist leader (529; including 11 or more in a game eight times) and all-time free throw percentage leader (88.9). He finished six shy of most career steals and shot 40 percent on 3s. Yoder still lives in Colorado, where he is managing director for a financial services company.
No. 2 — Tyler Brown (Penn 2006)
Brown is one of just six players ever to be named to our All-Area first team three times — and the only one not from Elkhart County. The ultra-versatile, ultra-smooth, 6-5 Brown paced coach Dean Foster’s Kingsmen to a 24-3 mark with a regional title as a senior. He was also Penn’s top scorer both as a sophomore and junior on 19-4 and 14-8 clubs, and a regular as a freshman. Over his four years, which included 1,210 points, the Kingsmen went 29-2 in NIC play with two outright titles and a shared title. Brown went on to star at Bethel College.
No. 3 – Rusty Yoder (Westview 1994)
A dizzying scorer, Ryan’s 5-11 younger brother finished fourth all-time in area points behind Kemp, Dean Weirich and his uncle, Gary Yoder, closing at 1,698. The two-time All-Area first-teamer was easily the top scorer on three straight Westview teams. Those Eash-coached clubs went, in order, 16-8, 16-5 and 22-5 with two single-class sectional titles and two perfect NECC seasons. Yoder, who averaged 22.6 points over his final two prep seasons, went on to be a double-digit scorer at South Alabama.
No. 4 — Andrew Laird (Penn 2001)
Led by Laird, and also featuring Marqus Husband, coach Dean Foster’s Kingsmen made the program’s first and still-only State Finals appearance in 2001, falling in the 4A title game to cap off a 23-3 season. The 6-6 Laird was a potent scorer, passer and rebounder out of the pivot for three straight years. He helped Penn to a 43-8 mark and a pair of perfect NIC finishes over his final two seasons, averaging 16.2 points. He was also the top scorer as a sophomore on the team that won the first of a program-best three straight sectional crowns. He closed with 1,153 career points.
No. 5 – Tim Thomas (Penn 1989)
One of the more spectacularly gifted athletes to come through the area — and someone who kind of resembled Michael Jordan — the high-flying Thomas could get hot from long range or with an assortment of powerful drives often capped by dunks. Over his final two seasons while playing for coach Jim Welsh, the 6-1 Thomas averaged 21.3 points for clubs that went 30-15, leading each in scoring by better than a 2-to-1 rate.
Honorable mention (no particular order): Marian — B.J. Kloska (1997). Penn — Brian Coffman (1997), Tommy Kurth (2009). Westview — Jeremy Bachman (1990), Adam Christner (2009).
Finally, while we’re on the topic of Westview and coming off that topic of Shawn Kemp at the top of the Elkhart County Top 25, I’m reminded that Westview’s 6-3 Dave Troyer probably performed more effectively and admirably head-to-head against Kemp over multiple meetings than anybody else. That includes Troyer outscoring Kemp 25-14 in a Warrior victory when Troyer was a junior, Kemp was a sophomore and I was covering basketball for another county publication. Troyer graduated a year before the 1988-2012 window for consideration in the above list, but what a memorable Westview player he was among many.
Next blog: A composite look at how entrants in our Top 10 Elkhart County contest voted, and thoughts on a few players who just missed the county Top 25.