In a script that could seemingly only be written in a movie, Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.) high school matched up in the first round of sectionals with the same North Central (Ind.) team that the Royals eliminated on a half court buzzer beater from the hands of now Michigan State freshman guard Gary Harris just one year ago. North Central had their chance at revenge lead by 2013 Indiana football signee Darius Latham and super freshman and class of 2016 Michigan target, Eron Gordon.
One the finalists for the 2013 Indiana Mr. Basketball award, Zak Irvin struggled to get his offensive game going in the first half of play, scoring just six points. In the second half, Irvin was lights out. Scoring 23 points in the second half, Hamilton Southeastern surged to grab a 15-point lead.
"It was about what you would expect when those two teams get together," said high school sports reporter Kyle Neddenriep of the Indianapolis Star. "It looked like HSE had it won, they were up 15 in the late third, early fourth quarter and North Central was really struggling to do anything offensively.
"They started making a run and then Zak hit two big shots to put them back up by ten and at that point there's three minutes left and you're kind of thinking they had warded off the worst of it."
One of the most talented football prospects from the state of Indiana, Latham enjoyed a very productive career on the basketball floor as well, going to work inside against Hamilton Southeastern and willing North Central into overtime with a buzzer beating deuce.
"He kind of took things on his back there and he's a long time AAU teammate of Zak," said Neddenriep. "Those two are close friends. They kind of went at it and Darius ended up getting the big shot at the end."
In overtime North Central seized all momentum and prevented Hamilton Southeastern from scoring, winning the game 78-68 and advancing on to the next round of sectionals.
At the end of it all, Irvin stood on the court as his high school career came to a close, missing key free throws down the stretch of regulation. Emotions were too high to control for the Michigan bound senior.
"Just seeing the way Zak reacted at the end of the game, you could tell how much he put into it and how much it hurt for him to lose like that," said Neddenriep. "It's always heartbreaking when you see those guys play their last game, guys who have been so fun to watch for so long. To see it end like that was pretty sad.
"His parents were out there and even the opposing teams coach was out there trying to console him but at that point he probably didn't want to hear from anyone."
Irvin Working To Move On
Over two weeks removed from the disappointing loss, Irvin and his family are still coming to grips with the end of his prep career. Spending time in the gym and weight room to get his mind off of it, Irvin knows it's a slow process after dedicating four strong years to Hamilton Southeastern's school and basketball program.
"It's still a sore subject a little bit. A lot of people had high expectations for our team (after) losing three games in the regular season and then coming out and losing the first game in sectionals. But everything happens for a reason."
Having the support of his parents, sister, grandparents, and several others, Irvin has had help working through the loss. Reflecting back on the season, Irvin is proud of what he and his team accomplished based on preseason expectations.
Individually, Irvin took another leap, eager to remove the tag of just being a 6-7 outside shooter.
"I had a lot of double doubles this year, which is the first time that's ever happened to me playing basketball," said Irvin. "I really didn't rebound the previous years but Michigan told me they wanted me to start rebounding more so I really keyed on that."
"I would just say I've worked on becoming a complete player."
Irvin was selected to participate in the 2013 Derby Festival Classic, an all-star event held in Louisville, Kentucky on April 19th and will most likely participate in the Indiana all-stars, the same team current Michigan freshman Glenn Robinson III played on just a year ago.
Ready to move to the next chapter of his life, Irvin is even more excited about his future in Ann Arbor than he was in the summer of 2011 when he made a verbal commitment. The Wolverines have turned into the program the coaches told him they would.
"Before I decided to commit they were telling me about how they were going to be good these next couple years," said Irvin. "On paper you see that but now -- No. 1 team in the nation, Big Ten champs last year, and chance at Big Ten champs this year. That's really good stuff and hopefully they can make a deep run in the tournament."
Mr. Basketball Chances
The Mr. Basketball race in Indiana has been a hot topic throughout the entire season down in the Hoosier state. Irvin's strong play has kept him firmly in the race and according to some writers the leading candidate to land the honor.
Will an early exit in sectionals hurt Irvin's chances at the award?
"I don't think you can say that it doesn't hurt," said Neddenriep. "Especially since this is two years in a row that Hamilton Southeastern doesn't make it beyond the sectional. Just trying to read between the lines to what some of the voters might be thinking – they might be hesitant to give it to the same team again who again didn't make it out of the sectionals.
"That's not to say he's not the best player in the state or didn't have the best season but I think some voters may think that way so it doesn't help."
The Indianapolis Star is inviting fans and readers to vote for who they believe should be crowned Mr. Basketball in 2013 (click here) and as of Wednesday afternoon Irvin is fourth in votes behind Mishawaka's Demetrius Jackson, Tipton's Mike Crawford, and the leader with over 2,000 votes, Northrop's Bryson Scott.
Official voting for the Mr. Basketball award will begin on March 19th by coaches and media.
U-M Hoops is Where Zak Irvin Hoped It'd Be
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