Aaron Gross probably shouldn’t expect to receive a clean inbound pass at the end of a quarter again.
Whiteland’s 6-foot-4 senior destroyed his cloak of invisibility on Dec. 16 against Center Grove when, with 0.6 seconds on the third-quarter clock, he got the ball well behind the halfcourt line and sank a shot to help propel his team to a comeback victory.
Gross hit five 3-pointers in all that night, scoring 19 of his 21 points in the second half. That victory helped the Warriors (7-2) earn the No. 1 seed in the Johnson County Tournament, which resumes Friday with a pair of semifinal games at Whiteland. Greenwood faces Center Grove at 6 p.m., with the Warriors hosting Indian Creek in the nightcap.
This season has seen Gross take on a much larger role for Whiteland. Though he had his big moments as a junior — including a game-winning 3-pointer at Seymour — Gross averaged just 2.8 points and 2.2 rebounds on the year.
Those numbers have gone up significantly. Heading into Friday’s game, Gross is third for the Warriors in scoring at 11.6 points per game, trailing only classmate Michael Valle (19.4) and sophomore Brennan Neal (11.8). He’s among the area’s top 3-point shooters, having hit 20 of 46 (43 percent).
But Gross’ game is certainly not limited to the perimeter. He’s also tied with Valle for the team lead in rebounds with 6.4 per night, and he leads Whiteland with 14 blocked shots.
Warriors coach Matt Wadsworth said that Gross always has been a confident shooter, but he’s impressed with how the senior has rounded out his game.
“What I’ve seen in the offseason is athletically, he’s continued to get better; as he’s worked harder in the weight room, he’s gotten stronger,” Wadsworth said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s been a good rebounder for us, is just that strength and that ability to get off the floor quick.”
Gross, who seems loath to focus on himself, notes that the entire Whiteland lineup has similar versatility — precisely what makes the Warriors so dangerous.
“I think it makes our whole team very hard to guard with a bunch of people who can shoot from the outside and also score inside,” he said. “Everybody can rebound; almost everyone has the capability to handle the ball and push the ball up the floor.”
Gross does all of those things for the Warriors; Wadsworth notes that the forward is good for a putback bucket or two almost every game, and the coach is a firm believer that Gross’ best basketball is still ahead of him.
“As a player, he’s got a tremendous upside,” Wadsworth said. “I think he’s only scratching the surface of what he could be, and I think it’d be great for a small college to take a look at him, because I think over time he’ll continue to get better.”
The long-term future certainly appears promising for Gross. In the short term, though, he’s just concerned with helping Whiteland repeat as Johnson County champion after the program broke a six-decade title drought last winter.
“We want to cut down our net,” Gross said. “I think that’d be special for everyone in the program.”
Johnson County tournament
Greenwood vs. Center Grove, 6 p.m.
Indian Creek vs. Whiteland, 7:30 p.m.
Championship, 7:30 p.m.