INDIANAPOLIS – Homestead boys basketball has had a long offseason.
The Spartans ran up a 21-2 record in the regular season, including an SAC Holiday Tournament championship, and reached the top 10 in Class 4A. In their first sectional game, however, they fell to Huntington North 48-34, snapping a string of five straight sectional titles. It was the first time Homestead had lost in its first playoff game since 2010-11.
That loss has lingered in the minds of the team's returning players and they've used it as fuel to improve before the 2019-20 season begins. A pair of those returnees, incoming senior Zak Krueger and junior Luke Goode, were among the elite high school players from Indiana invited to Saturday's IBCA-IHSAA Boys Underclassman Showcase at Ben Davis.
“It's been a huge motivator,” Goode said of the loss to the Vikings. “Last year, walking off the court, knowing we could have won that game and we didn't, it was a huge weight put on our shoulders.
“Me and obviously Zak leading the team, it wasn't good for us and we took it upon ourselves and this summer we're going to get a lot better and hopefully turn it around next year.”
Goode was one of the most highly-ranked players at Saturday's event, playing with AAU teammate Caleb Furst of Blackhawk Christian. The 6-foot-5 guard is the No. 70 player in the country in the 2021 class, per 247sports.com, and recently began playing up a year with Furst on Indy Heat 2020, traveling to Dallas in late for his first big EYBL event with the older team.
The increased strength and physicality at the higher level will help prepare Goode, who has scholarship offers from Maryland, Illinois, Iowa and Butler, among others, for a high school season in which teams will see slowing him down as a key to beating the Spartans.
“I feel like I'm going to have do more scoring,” Goode said of the upcoming season. “And be more of a leader. Last year as a sophomore I was a leader, but I could have done more. This year as a junior, I'm just going to have to step it up.”
Krueger is not an elite national prospect like his younger teammate, but he is just as vital to Homestead's success this season. The 5-11 point guard averaged 13.2 points per game as a junior and was one of the Spartans' most important playmakers when opposing teams tried to focus extra attention on Goode.
“Krueger does a fantastic job, he's our floor leader, floor general,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said last season. “He's able to get himself to the basket, he's able to pull up and hit that jump shot. If they back up too much, he's able to hit the 3.
“He's our guy that (the offense) goes through. We want him to make things happen.”
Krueger was impressive at the Showcase, looking comfortable handling the ball against pressure – the team he played against picked up full-court defensively – and showing some terrific vision.
On one play, he got an outlet pass near half court and threaded the needle with a bounce pass through a tiny opening between two defenders for a layup. Later, he showed some solid defensive instincts and hustle, beating his man to a loose ball after a bad pass and going in for a twisting layup around a block attempt.
“I'm trying to get stronger and I'm trying to work on my shot, especially my 3,” said Krueger, who plays for Indy Heat Red. “(I'm working on) getting my teammates open for next season, so that's the main focus right now.”
The loss to Huntington North gnaws at Krueger, as well, and it's been on his mind as he prepares for his final high school season.
“We talk about it all the time,” he said. “Us players that are coming back next year, we'll remember how that feeling felt and use that to keep us hungry.”