Nobody knew those two boys high school basketball teams as inside out as Jim Hahn did, and he’s had well over two decades now to make up his mind on a question he’s often been asked about those teams, but even now the head coach of both clubs still hedges just a bit as he talks about the Concord Minutemen of 1987-88 and the Concord Minutemen of 1989-90.
Which team was better?
Each was perfect through its first 28 games. Each lost only the state championship game. Each had a Mr. Basketball runner-up, Shawn Kemp in 1988, Jamar Johnson in 1990.
Johnson, the standout point guard on both teams, has his own answer to the question, and it might surprise you.
But first Hahn’s.
“Probably ’90 was better, just because of the overall team aspect of it,” Hahn said this past week, “but it’s hard to compare, just because there was no other player like Shawn on either team. He’s one of the best ever to play in Indiana.”
Just ask Johnson. One might think, and would definitely understand, if Johnson romantically leaned toward his own senior season, the one that came in 1990.
“Let me put it to you like this,” Johnson said. “You know I love Bill Mutch, and (the 1990 version of Mutch) would’ve done a good job on Shawn, but he wouldn’t have stopped him. I mean, who on our 1990 team is going to stop Shawn?”
“That’s a good question,” Hahn said when it was relayed to him. “We would’ve tried to take away everything we could from him on the inside and make other guys beat you. Our philosophy was always to take the other team’s best player away. Of course, with Shawn, that would’ve been easier said than done.”
“Statistically, the 1990 team was better,” Johnson said, “but I do think the ’88 team would’ve beaten our ’90 team.”
I think otherwise. I join Hahn in leaning toward 1990.
I had to make a selection, because today I reveal these two teams as the top two in my “Twine 12” of Elkhart County boys basketball teams over the 25 years spanning 1987-88 to 2011-12. The rest will be revealed over the next week in Basket Blog at etruth.com.
Precisely like my Top 25 players project that was completed last month, determining the top two was easy.
Unlike with the players, though — in which Kemp was No. 1 and Johnson was No. 2 — putting the teams in order was not as obvious.
Still, this time around, I have to go with 1990.
That team, like Johnson contends, might not have stopped Kemp. But I think it would’ve slowed him down enough to win.
And there are other reasons for the choice.
Johnson the senior would’ve schooled Johnson the sophomore.
Likewise, Mutch as a senior was much better than Mutch as the ’88 team’s sophomore starting center. In fact, Mutch was so good by 1990 that he was the second-best player on a team that included four eventual Division I players, himself not one of them.
Further, Johnson’s backcourt mate in ’90 was junior lockdown defender and eventual D-I signee Mike Swanson. In ’88 it was senior blur Steve Larkin. Slight edge to Swanson.
Each team started a beloved Sharp brother at forward. In 1990 it was Micah Sharp. In 1988 it was the late Maceo Sharp. More than a micro edge to Micah.
The 1990 team also started rapidly evolving Jeff Massey, who would become an Indiana All-Star the next season. Massey’s possibly one of the guys Hahn would’ve assigned to provide Mutch with some help on Kemp, which would’ve been interesting.
And the ’90 team had the superior bench, led by Donny Hackworth and Cien Asoera, though the ’88 club could toss more size at you with 6-foot-7 Chris Bailey and others.
What remains unfortunate in the case of each team if you’re a lover of Elkhart County basketball is that neither did win that state title.
“Every year when the state tournament is played, it always comes to mind,” Hahn said of the two near-misses. “Obviously, you get that close, you want to win it, but you still have two very good seasons and the accomplishments were many.”
Strictly in terms of the championship-game scores, the 1990 team came decidedly closer, and that’s even though they were up against an outcome that felt pre-destined to many thanks to one player.
In front of the largest crowd in the world ever to watch a high school basketball game, 41,046 at the old Hoosier Dome, the Minutemen lost 63-60 to Bedford North Lawrence (29-2) and senior Damon Bailey, who was playing in his third Final Four and remains the most talked-about, written-about and beloved player in Indiana history through one’s prep career.
No. 1-ranked Concord led 58-52 before Bailey — still Indiana’s all-time leading scorer as well — personally outscored the Minutemen 11-2 over the final 2:38.
A controversial blocking foul on Mutch that could’ve been a charging foul on Bailey was part of a frantic finish, and then Concord missed four 3-pointers that could’ve tied the contest on the game’s last possession.
“Every time I hear the name or see him, I just cringe,” Hahn admitted of Bailey. “When I talked to coaches in southern Indiana that week and was getting tapes of (BNL’s) games, they all said, ‘Damon Bailey’s going to win.’ I would say, ‘Yeah. We’ll see.’ It’s just hard to believe he got four fouls — if I remember, his fourth was late in the third quarter — and then he goes the rest of the game and never gets another one.”
The coach says he’s never happened to run into or talked to Bailey since that day.
“He’s still living, isn’t he?” Hahn cracked when asked if the two have crossed paths. “No, I’m just joking. Just joking. He was a great high school player who deserved everything he got. My feeling is we missed some shots, we missed some free throws and we had some turnovers. We didn’t do enough to keep the referees from being in a position to possibly determine the outcome at the end.”
As for 1988, Concord didn’t do enough to stay close at the end.
The No. 2 Minutemen were whipped 76-53 by a loaded, top-ranked Muncie Central club as each side finished 28-1.
Concord trailed just 46-39 through three quarters, but Kemp picked up his fourth and fifth fouls over the next 4:12 as the Bearcats pulled away in the final period.
Like Johnson points out, the Minutemen’s 1990 team was better statistically than the 1988 team.
It averaged 73.6 points while allowing 54.0. The 1988 club averaged 68.5 and allowed 54.3.
The 1990 team won 17 of its 20 regular-season games by double digits, with the other three decided by four, seven and eight points. The 1988 club, on the other hand, won six times by five points or less.
The 1990 team roared through its first six postseason contests, prevailing by 29, 15, 22, 19, 12 and 18 points. The 1988 club wasn’t far behind at 20, 15, 25, 11, 6 and 9.
Close calls in the 1990 postseason were a two-point win over Northfield in the semistate final and a four-point win over Anderson in the day session at the Final Four. In 1988, the Minutemen beat Norwell by five in the semistate final and whipped Hammond Noll by 16 at the Final Four.
“The issue with that ’88 team,” Hahn said, “was if Shawn got hurt or in foul trouble, like happened his junior year when Penn beat us in the sectional, it had a much bigger effect on us as a team than anything that happened in ’90. That ’90 team had a lot of very good players and could handle just about anything.”
And that team is the best Elkhart County team I covered during my first 25 seasons at The Elkhart Truth.
Contact Anthony Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AnthonyAnders11.
Top 12 Teams
Concord 1990 is No. 1 and Concord 1988 is No. 2 among Anthony Anderson’s Top 12 Elkhart County boys high school basketball teams of the 25 seasons spanning 1987-88 to 2011-12. The rest of the Top 12 will be revealed in three parts over the next week in Basket Blog at etruth.com.