Irvin early fav for Indiana Mr. Basketball

In 2012, current Michigan State freshman Gary Harris made history in becoming the first ever Indiana Mr. Basketball winner from Hamilton Southeastern high school. In 2013, the award might not leave the school—thanks to U-M commit Zak Irvin's strong play.

Oscar Robertson, Steve Alford and Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson --- three names wearing the crown of basketball royalty from the basketball rich state of Indiana, known for baskets in the driveway or nailed to the garage, producing hours upon hours of nets swishing with every flick of the wrist. Also on their list of impressive accomplishments that include National championships, NBA championships and MVP's, is the prestigious honor of being named Indiana's Mr. Basketball.

The Mr. Basketball award doesn't guarantee success, but with players such as New Orleans Hornet guard Eric Gordon, Indiana Pacer center Tyler Zeller, Indiana center Cody Zeller and even the most recent, Michigan State guard Gary Harris, all belonging to the same club, its easy to see just how special it is.

The 2013 Mr. Basketball race is far from reaching the white flagged final lap that almost certainly will wave alongside the always-competitive state tournament. But right off the line, Hamilton Southeastern senior and University of Michigan bound guard Zak Irvin is leading the way with his strong play and nearly flawless record.

Irvin, HSE, off to hot start

Never in the history of Indiana's Mr. Basketball award has a recipient added the historic piece of hardware to the collection then loaded the car up to head North on I-69, then East on I-94, to stop in Ann Arbor, Michigan and play for the Wolverines. With months still left in his senior season at Hamilton Southeastern high school, home to the previously mentioned 2012 winner Harris, Zak Irvin is making a point and a case early to do just that—averaging 25.7 points per game, 9.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.6 steals, while helping lead the Royals to a 10-1 record to start the year.

"I think Zak has done everything he needed to do to this point," Indianapolis Star high school sports reporter Kyle Neddenriep told GoBlueWolverine. "Averaging 25, 26 a game and almost 10 rebounds. It's not like he's just shooting it every time he gets it. He's playing good defense – and has been efficient offensively."

"The biggest thing for him, I think, to really top things off, is to win the sectional --- and it's a tough sectional but I think a lot of times it comes down to winning, and I think that will definitely help his chances, for them to get out of there this year."

Coming up big on back-to-back nights in early December, Irvin pumped in 30 points in a win on the road at Zionsville just a few weeks ago, before following that up with a huge 33 point performance in an 82-77 win over North Central heading into the holiday break.

With plenty of other competition vying for the honor including Indiana commitments Colin Hartmann and Devin Davis, as well as Notre Dame commitment Demetrius Jackson and Purdue commitment Bryson Scott, Irvin's body of work, to date, stands above the rest.

"I think Zak has strengthened his argument," said Neddenriep. "I think if you look at it from when we were starting the season until now, I think his case is stronger now than it was before the start of the season."

"Of those five, I think Zak has made the strongest statement so far based off what he's done individually. He goes out the very first game against Fishers and just lights everything on fire. I think that got off on the right foot. He's played extremely well since then, so, of those five, I think he's made the strongest case just based on the small sample size at the start of the season."

Sizing up the competition

SF Collin Hartman (6'6, 175), Indianapolis Cathedral- "Colin has played one game, basically," said Neddenriep. "He's been injured and he's probably going to miss a month of the season. That'll do some damage to his chances, not by any fault of his own but missing that much time -- he's going to miss seven or eight games at least." Hartman has since returned for Cathedral, notching 16 points in a six-point loss to Carmel Wednesday night.

PG Demetrius Jackson (6'1, 185), Mishawaka- "I think Demetrius Jackson doesn't have the team around him that some of these other guys do too, so I think that should play a factor when you're judging him," said Neddenriep. "He did go to a semi-state last year and he's won a lot in high school. After watching him this weekend, he doesn't have a lot to work with. There aren't guys who can really finish for him." Jackson has Mishawaka off to a 6-2 start to the season including wins over Chesterton and East Chicago Central (2015 PG Hyron Edwards).

PF Devin Davis (6'6, 190), Warren Central- "I think Devin is right close behind them," said Neddenriep. "I've seen Devin and North Central, probably three or four times already, and I think he's played really well. They've lost three overtime games in a row – they lost them all. But I think he's put himself in the discussion." Davis has Warren Central off to a 6-4 start that included a one-point victory over Indianapolis Cathedral in which Davis notched 30 points and 15 rebounds.

SG Bryson Scott (6'0, 190), Fort Wayne Northrop- "He didn't make the quarter last year based off the coaches' vote," said Neddenriep. "The coaches do vote for Mr. Basketball. That'll be interesting to see how much strength he can get from the coaches' vote." Scott has helped lead Fort Wayne Northrup to an 11-2 start with several strong performances, including player of the week honors after averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds in the Hall of Fame Classic.

SF V.J. Beachem (6'6, 165), New Haven- "Another guy to throw in there probably is V.J. Beachem – going to Notre Dame," said Neddenriep. "I don't know exactly what he's done so far, but he should be in the conversation if you're talking about possible candidates as well." New Haven is off to a 4-4 start to the season.

The IU debate

Dating back to 1997, seven Mr. Basketball award winners have gone on to Bloomington, Indiana to wear the striped white and crimson pants as part of the Indiana basketball program.

In the 2012 race, ultimately won by Hamilton Southeastern's Gary Harris, the award came down to the now Michigan State freshman shooting guard and Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell of Park Tudor high school -- with many believing the player staying within the state boundary to play college basketball would be able to corral the award.

But that didn't happen.

"I think Gary earned it, and I think Yogi earned it as well," said Neddenriep. "I thought both of them -- it could have easily been a split vote. I wouldn't have had a problem if either one of them won it, honestly. But I think voters, when they sit down and look at it, are going to pick the right guy for the most part."

Regarding the IU favoritism, he added, "I think at times that's a little bit overblown. I think maybe a bigger factor is just having been seen and that's sometimes tough for a guy like Demetrius (Jackson) who plays in 3A, and they don't get down to Indianapolis that often. You're not seen by southern Indiana or central Indiana that much, so it's just kind of out of sight or out of mind at times. That may hurt more than the IU factor."

For Irvin, who will have every opportunity to wow in front of media, fans and coaches being in the Indianapolis area, his Mr. Basketball "moments" will need to take center stage during the state tournament in February – and if they do, the state of Michigan just might claim its second State of Indiana award winner in a row.

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