Michael Benkert’s career point total expresses the kind of basketball player he’s been the past four years at Center Grove.

Benkert completed his career with 1,177 points, placing him fifth all-time among Trojans boys players since the program’s inception in 1926.

It could’ve been more. Perhaps a lot more. But that’s not Benkert’s style.

More interested in padding his team’s victory total than he was his own reputation, Benkert since Game 1 of the 2011-12 season set out to make whatever shot, screen, pass, steal or block was required in order to ensure Center Grove’s success.

After averaging 15.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists during the 2014-15 season, the 6-foot-4 senior guard is The Daily Journal’s Player of the Year for its All-County Boys Basketball Team.

Introduced to varsity competition the season after Center Grove snapped its 17-year drought of sectional titles in boys basketball, Benkert took part in a total of 89 games with the Trojans going 43-46.

This past season’s 13-10 mark represented the second winning team for which Benkert would play (Center Grove finished 11-10 his freshman season).

“I look back at it, and it went by in a blink of an eye. The best part was playing basketball with pretty much the same group of guys all the way through high school,” said Benkert, referring to classmates Anderson McCoy, Alec Leiter, Sam Hendershott, Carson Lee and Joey Lenkey.

“Third-grade was when we all started playing basketball together.”

Benkert played his first three high school seasons for coach Cliff Hawkins, who after 10 seasons decided to take the job at Madison, where he’s now in charge of the Cubs’ hoops fortunes.

Enter Zach Hahn, who as Hawkins’ successor appreciated Benkert’s willingness to lead, be coached and do whatever it took to make Center Grove basketball better.

“Michael is the epitome of a team player. He always played with passion, served others in the community and on the team, was extremely humble and thankful for the many opportunities he has been given and will continue to be given because of his selfless persona,” Hahn said.

“He laid the foundation for changing our culture as a basketball program. Michael averaged only two points less than the previous year while shooting seven less shots per game. He became a defensive-minded player and bought in to being a distributor, as he averaged almost three assists per game.”

Hahn tells the story of how Benkert was continuing to rehab an injured knee during fall workouts and was unable to take part with his teammates.

Instead of adopting a loner’s mentality, Benkert never missed individual workouts in the morning or open gyms once school let out.

“He came in every day, watched and learned, encouraged teammates, shot free throws, stretched and iced to get back to full strength,” Hahn said.

Once on the court, Benkert’s unselfish nature carried over.

Completely disinterested in what his portion of following morning’s box score would suggest, Benkert’s thinking was that if Center Grove won, so did he.

“I felt like for us to win I had to get everyone else involved,” Benkert said. “It made playing the game 10 times more fun.”

In early June, Benkert both literally and figuratively leaves Johnson County in his rear-view mirror as he drives the five hours to officially become a student-athlete at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

Benkert will play for the Division I Bruins, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference with the likes of Austin Peay, Tennessee Tech, Murray State and Morehead State.

First, the oldest of Mike and Anita Benkert’s seven adopted children must exchange goodbyes with his parents and siblings.

It promises to be an emotional time for all parties involved, though for Benkert it’s part of the maturing process.

“It’s going to be hard at first, but I think I’m ready,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

All-County Team pullout

Matt Heagy, Edinburgh

The 6-foot11 senior played a huge role in the Lancers’ 14-10 finish — the sixth consecutive season in which the program has recorded a winning record — by averaging a team-high 19.3 points.

Heagy also chipped in 3.6 rebounds a game to go along with his 2.5 assists and 2.3 steals. He finished the season having made 40 of 111 3-point attempts (.360) and 130 of 170 tries from the free-throw stripe (.765).

Dylan Phair, Indian Creek

Phair played a major role in the Braves’ 16 victories — the most the program has achieved in recent years, even surpassing the 15-7 squad of 1998-99.

The 6-foot senior guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals. Phair also converted 51 percent of his 2-point field-goal attempts and 31 percent of those launched from behind the 3-point stripe.

Tom Purdie, Whiteland

Blue-collar 6-4 junior guard/forward enjoyed a breakout season with team-best numbers in points (16.5), rebounds (9.0), assists (3.0) and steals (1.3) for a 10-13 Warriors squad.

Purdie drained 44 of 98 3-point shots (.449) and 83 of 119 (.697) from the free-throw line.

Cameron Smith, Franklin

This 6-2 junior made the most of his first season in a Grizzly Cubs uniform after transferring to Franklin following two varsity seasons at Indian Creek.

Smith’s fast start to the season eventually was slowed by an ankle injury, though he still finished as Franklin’s leading in both points (16.0) and steals (2.0) while still finding time to grab four boards per game. Smith’s 2.3 assists also ranked him at the top.

Spencer Wood, Indian Creek

The Braves’ starting point guard steadily guided Johnson County’s highest-scoring squad (68.6 ppg) by averaging 12.1 points for what was a very balanced team.

The 6-1 senior also produced impressive numbers in other areas such as his 4.2 boards, 3.9 assists and 2.5 steals. Wood also was a sure bet at the charity stripe, knocking down 80 percent of his opportunities.

Honorable mention

Center Grove: Anderson McCoy

Edinburgh: Kyle Pendleton and Bobby Simpson

Franklin: Andrew Hartkorn and Nik Welch

Greenwood: Justin Conley and Spencer Isenthal

Greenwood Christian Academy: Jared Davenport, Mark Gibson and Braden Murray

Indian Creek: Jared DeHart and Tyler Parks

Whiteland: Terr’e Moss and Mike Valle

Author photo
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.