t some point during Saturday’s Class 4A sectional semifinal game against New Albany, Center Grove sophomore point guard Ben Nicoson probably will find himself matched up with Romeo Langford — the best boys basketball player in Indiana and a probable future millionaire.
It’ll likely be a pretty surreal moment, given that Nicoson was guarding junior varsity players not much more than two months ago.
Nicoson played 10 games — almost half the season — with the Trojans’ JV team, earning some spot minutes on varsity during that time, before Center Grove coach Zach Hahn decided he wanted the steady point guard in his lineup on a full-time basis.
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“The JV was undefeated, and we thought a big reason for that was Nicoson,” Hahn recalled. “We needed somebody to be solid and come in and do their job and do their role and not worry about anything else. He’s a really good on-the-ball defender, he can make shots, he makes plays for us offensively.”
Nicoson’s impact was perhaps most visible in a sectional semifinal victory against Whiteland. Tasked with shadowing Warriors sharpshooter Aaron Gross, who had burned the Trojans in the teams’ two regular-season meetings, Nicoson helped keep him bottled up while also adding a team-high 13 points at the other end in a 56-39 rout.
Hahn wasn’t at all surprised that Nicoson’s strong play has carried over to the varsity level.
“He’s a kid that brings it every day in practice,” the coach said. “You knew what you were going to get with him; he’s just a very solid basketball player.”
Sliding Nicoson into the starting lineup meant taking someone out, and the someone was junior Nate McLain.
Many young players would bristle at the idea of coming off the bench, particularly after they’ve grown accustomed to starting, but McLain has embraced his new role.
“It was just hard to adjust to,” he admitted. “I kind of liked it a little bit, though. Coming off the bench is a lot less pressure and then I can just play my role.”
Hahn likes the fact that McLain can slide into any one of four positions off the bench — and points out that McLain is actually playing more minutes now than he was as a starter.
“He’s doing the same thing he did when he started,” Hahn said. “He’s being aggressive and he’s guarding, usually, the other team’s best player. He’s just doing a phenomenal job of being versatile and giving us a spark.”
The tweaks to the lineup have paid off. Since a second loss to Whiteland in the final of the Johnson County tournament, Center Grove is 9-3 — and it’s playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.
Nicoson admits that he’s still “nervous before every game,” but after going through the rigors of the Trojans’ grueling conference schedule, he’s ready now for whatever gets thrown his way — even if it’s a future NBA player.
“It’s definitely the biggest stage I’ve played on in my basketball career,” Nicoson said of Saturday’s regional.
“I just take it as (Langford’s) the best player, and I’m going to stop him no matter what — because if I don’t, it’s going to be a tough battle.”
Center Grove vs. New Albany, 10 a.m.
Bloomington South vs. Castle, noon
Championship, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $7 per session, $10 both sessions
Note: A live video webcast of the Center Grove-New Albany game will be available at https://www.facebook.com/CGSportsNetwork. The championship game will be carried at the same address if Center Grove advances.