“Shootin’ the Stars” February 27, 2024: The NCC a league that never goes out of style

Shootin’ the Stars: The NCC a league that never goes out of style

by Mike Beas


No league in Indiana perspires droplets of basketball tradition the way the North Central Conference does.

And, frankly, it’s not even close.

Since 1926, the NCC has given us boys state championships, a hearty helping of our most-iconic gymnasiums and enough memories to last the hard-working folks in those cities a dozen lifetimes.

The NCC is Rayl-Pavy, Blackmon-Lewis, Alford-Blackmon/Lewis, Norm Held’s towel and Bill Green’s genius. It’s Basil Mawbey’s 2-3 zone, Andre Morgan skying to throw down an alley-oop dunk that rattles the foundation of a standing-room-only Wigwam, Goose Ligon’s ridiculous wingspan, the Purple Reign of Marion and Bill Harrell’s mighty Bearcats.

Fans of different generations are able to debate with straight-faced sincerity that theirs was the NCC’s undisputed apex. The walls of Butler Fieldhouse (later Hinkle) can regale us with countless NCC-themed afternoons and evenings with not a single seat available.

Later venues such as Market Square Arena and the Hoosier/RCA Dome were able to make similar claims before being reduced to rubble and swept away by the hands of progress.

Charter members Anderson, Kokomo, Logansport, Muncie Central and Richmond . . . yeah, they’re still around. Conversely, five other NCC originals (Frankfort, Indianapolis Tech, Lebanon, New Castle and Rochester) would, in time, leave for conferences that were a better fit geographically, enrollment-wise or both.

Currently, the North Central Conference operates with nine high schools, and one can’t help but notice a recent resurgence.

Kokomo, led by Kansas-bound big man Flory Bidunga, is the defending Class 4A state runner-up, and a strong contender to make it back to Gainbridge Fieldhouse in late-March.

Meanwhile, former Wildkats’ guard Donnie Bowling led the Anderson Indians to conference runner-up status with a 7-1 NCC record (17-5 overall) in his fourth season at the helm.

The job Bowling is doing in Madison County can’t be pushed aside.

In the seven seasons prior to his arrival, Anderson under the guidance of four different head coaches posted a record of 42-125 (.255). One of the state’s proudest and most-accomplished boys basketball programs had been reduced to afterthought levels.

In 2020-2021, he took a two-win squad from the previous season and turned them into an 11-11 outfit that advanced to a sectional title game before losing to Mt. Vernon, 69-65.

“I feel like (the NCC) is a real good conference, but to say it’s the best . . . right now, we have 1,800 students, and a lot of our schools are Class 3A,” said Bowling, referencing the manufacturing jobs that left North Central Conference cities years ago, leading to diminishing numbers in enrollment and, in Anderson’s case, schools.

“People have moved away, and you lose some talent. But right now, Richmond has a Division I player (6-5 junior Cedric Horton), Kokomo obviously has a Division I player, we have a Division I player (6-4 junior Damien King) and Marion has a Division I player (6-6 junior Jaymen Townsend). I’m really excited for next year.”

With postseason play starting this evening, the Indians along with their NCC brethren embrace the possibility of manufacturing lengthy postseason runs. Anderson, in particular, has its work cut out, playing sixth-ranked and unbeaten Greenfield-Central on the Cougars’ home floor on Wednesday.

Kokomo finished the regular season ranked fourth in Class 4A; Anderson and Richmond checked in at 15th and 18th, respectively.

No one in his or her right mind looks at the current North Central Conference and makes comparisons to the days when Dave Colescott (Marion) or the late Jack Moore (Muncie Central) were dribbling out the clock on single-class state titles.

All the same, the NCC a year from now could have four top 10 teams when the season begins. Perhaps more.

What’s old is about to be new again.



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