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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Monday, March 29, 2021

Judah Simfukwe walks the ball over midcourt for Warsaw in its contest versus Lake Central. Simfukwe was chosen among the 2020-21 InkFreeNews All-Area boys basketball awards. InkFreeNews photos by Mike Deak

By Mike Deak, Adam Yoder and Nick Goralczyk

WARSAW – As the headline suggests, there is a theme to the 2020-21 InkFreeNews All-Area boys basketball awards. Of the 10 individuals singled out for our Top 10, all 10 are underclassmen.

For the first time in the seven years of the awards process for IFN, the list lacks a senior. After a senior-heavy 2019-20 list, where five of the Top 10 have since graduated, a new guard would have to step forward. A new guard did, indeed, with just two of our 10 selections returning to the list in 2020-21.

With the IHSAA state tournament heading to the championship round, InkFreeNews is releasing its All-IFN selections for the 2020-21 season. Our first of two installments will have our Second Team released today, Monday, and the First Team released on Tuesday. That will include a profile on our IFN Player of the Year selection as well.

For today, here is the start of our spotlights on players that had an outstanding 2020-21 season. Players are listed in alphabetical order.

Landon Gause, Lakeland Christian Academy

Landon Gause, Lakeland Christian Acaemy

Gause, a transfer from Wawasee, made an immediate and precipitous impact for the Cougars. In his first full year of varsity ball, the junior made a huge impression for first-year head coach Jake Ritchie’s program.

Gause would shine in contests against battle-tested programs, including 30 points in the first-ever matchup between Lakeland Christian and pseudo-big brother Lakeland, then dropping a career-high 32 points against another Lake-based side in Lakewood Park Christian. In two matchups with Class 1-A regional contenders, Gause had 15 points against Triton and 13 against Southwood in the North Miami sectional championship.

For the season, Gause led the team at 15 points per game, and did so for a Cougar program that saw its points-per-game tally rise from 40 in 2019-20 to 56 in 2020-21.

Coach Ritchie on Gause: “Landon is not only a special basketball player but he is a special young man. This year Landon stepped in for us on a new team and in his first full time varsity season took on a huge role. He could not have cared less about any individual accolades whatsoever, he just wanted to do whatever helped us win. I could not have asked for more of him. Landon is a much better basketball player than he even knows, once he realizes that, the ceiling for him is unlimited!

“We had times this year where it started to click and he just took over the game for us. The game that comes to mind was our game at Lakewood Park. Landon had one of the most quiet 32-point games I can remember, he just took what they gave him and didn’t force anything. However, when the game got into crunch time late in the fourth quarter and overtime he became more assertive and was our closer that game. I am looking forward to this offseason and next year to see Landon really unlock his potential!”

Paul Leasure, Tippecanoe Valley

Paul Leasure, Tippecanoe Valley

If not for an injury early in the year, Leasure likely would have landed on our Top 5 list. Leasure played in Valley’s first game of the season against Argos, but found himself on the bench injured for the rest of the month of December. Once he got his wind, the sophomore guard really took off.

Leasure hit double digits in the scorebook in eight of his final 10 games, including a season-high 25 points against Maconaquah and 22 in the regular season finale against Wawasee. Leasure recorded four assists in five different games and had at least two steals in four different contests.

On the season, Leasure posted numbers of 11.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 0.7 steals, but didn’t tell the tale of his value to the Viking construct.

Coach Chad Patrick on Leasure: “Paul had to be our rock this year. After Tanner Trippiedi graduated…we had to look for Paul to handle the ball and score when we need him, too. With his injury early in the year we struggled at times. When he came back and was healthy we started playing much better! Paul is a great player and we are glad to have him back for two more years and look for him to continue to be a leader for us.”

Ian Raasch, NorthWood

Ian Raasch, NorthWood

NorthWood graduated 60 percent of its starting lineup from the 2020 sectional championship team. Ian Raasch made up 20 percent of the return.

Raasch, just a sophomore, made a major stride from year one to two. Raasch was a bucket short of 10 points per night, but led the team in rebounds (57 offensive, 85 defensive) and blocks (9), and added 22 steals and 51 assists, the dimes standing out for a player spending most of his time on the offensive end in the paint. Raasch also hit 56 percent of his shots from the floor and was a headache for opposing teams trying to decide how to defend him.

In helping the Panthers back to the regional round, Raasch played a pivotal role in NorthWood’s two wins at the West Noble Sectional. His defensive work on Wawasee’s Collin Roberson helped NorthWood escape the semi-finals, and in the championship against West Noble, had 10 points, but pulled down a key offensive rebound late to push the Panthers through to the trophy. Raasch also showed his value in the regional round as NorthWood was a point away from making just its second-ever semi-state.

Raasch, an All-Northern Lakes Conference performer, added IBCA Honorable Mention All-State to his résumé last week.

Coach Aaron Wolfe on Raasch: “Ian is a versatile player capable of defending all five positions but had to anchor our defense in the basket area. He makes great decisions on the defensive end of the floor and led our team in rebounding around seven per game. Offensively, he is expanding his game and gaining the ability to attack on all three levels making him a difficult matchup for opposing teams. Above all else, his mental approach is elite which allows him to be a great leader.”

Judah Simfukwe, Warsaw

Judah Simfukwe, Warsaw

First-year head coach Matt Moore noted when he was introduced to the media in April 2020 that he was coming into a Warsaw program with a lot of room for growth. ‘I don’t know what happened in year’s past, we’re starting fresh.’ Part of that new creation was implementing Judah Simfukwe into the starting lineup, and the junior guard took off.

Simfukwe played his first full season of varsity hoops for the Tigers, starting 20 of 23 contests. It was a four-game stretch in the middle of Warsaw’s awakening in late January and early February, however, that helped Warsaw get over a mid-season hump.

His 27 combined points in back-to-back nights to beat NorthWood and Elkhart were followed by nights of 25 points against Mishawaka and 20 points at Chesterton, the Mishawaka win he also added nine rebounds and became the key win for Warsaw to claim a share of the Northern Lakes Conference title with the Cavemen.

Simfukwe, who finished second on the team with 12 points per game, reached double figures in scoring in all but six of his 23 games played. He was a 60 percent shooter from the floor, 75 percent shooter from the free throw line, and added 33 assists and 11 steals to his statline.

Coach Moore on Simfukwe: “Judah’s growth and commitment to our program was the definition of being selfless. He gave so much of himself to our team both offensively and defensively and because of that he elevated himself and his teammates.”

Tyson Yates, Triton

Tyson Yates, Triton

Tyson Yates found himself in a enviable position, serving as point guard to one of the top teams in Class 1-A. The Trojans proved it, making the regional finals, and Yates had his hands all over the success Triton had in a 20-win season.

Yates, who was named the Hoosier North Athletic Conference Most Valuable Player as well as IBCA Honorable Mention All-State, led the team in scoring 11 different times among its 26 contests. In an eye-opening 39-point win at Pioneer, Yates led the way with 28 points and seven rebounds, and when the chips were down, Yates put up 31 combined points in Triton’s wins over Oregon-Davis and Argos to win its first sectional in five years. He finished his junior season with 19 points and five rebounds in the regional final loss to state-bound Kouts.

For the season, Yates dropped in 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, hitting 53 percent of his shots from the floor. He led the team with 89 assists and was second with 54 steals and was a 71 percent shooter from the free throw stripe.

Coach Jason Groves on Yates: “Tyson is a very explosive player. He is very dangerous in transition, and, in the half court, Tyson’s ability to get to the basket off the dribble is very impressive. The area in which Tyson really set himself apart this season was being able to make his teammates better. Not only was Tyson able to get to the basket and score (53.2 percent FG; 13.1 ppg), but he became really good at getting shots for others because of his vision (89 assists; 3.42 apg) and opening up driving lanes for others due to his penetration and passing ability.

“Tyson also started to understand his potential as a defender this season. His explosiveness was obvious on that side of the ball too; he ended the season with 54 steals, which created a lot of offense for us as a team. He often had to guard one of the other teams best guards, and he also managed to be our second leading rebounder at 4.35 a game. Tyson has really worked hard at his game throughout the years, and it is nice to see that hard work pay off. Tyson was invaluable for us this season, and this is a well-deserved honor. He is definitely an exciting player to coach!”

Posted In: Boy's Sports > Basketball