Return of Barnhizer clan to Indiana gives Lafayette Jeff hope for renewed postseason success
LAFAYETTE — The bond between first-year Lafayette Jeff boys basketball coach Mark Barnhizer and his sons Brooks and Braxton is unbreakable, and not just because they are blood.
It’s because they represent Jeff’s shot at making a run deep into March — despite regular-season success, the Bronchos haven’t won a sectional title since 2010.
It was a large reason why the Bronchos repeated as Franciscan Health Hoops Classic champs at the start of December, with a 67-42 win over Benton Central in the semifinals and 76-73 win over Central Catholic in the championship, and stand at 7-2 on the season, headed into the new year.
Sophomore guard Brooks was named MVP of the Hoops Classic tourney, with 18 points, five assists, three rebounds, three steals and and two blocks in the semifinal. In the title game, he had 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting, five rebounds and two steals.
“I know his game better than anyone else,” Braxton said. “We’ve played one-on-one millions of times in our lives and going in before school every morning at 5 (a.m.). He’s there every day with me, him and my dad.”
Braxton, who is 6-foot-2, conceded that his younger brother starting beating him in those matchups a couple of years ago when Brook shot up to 6-6. The backyard battles began in Indianapolis, their hometown.
The list of schools checking out the underclassman includes Auburn, Purdue, Miami (Ohio) and Georgia State.
His vision and chemistry with his older brother was on display late in the semifinal game as he made a three-quarter-court toss to Braxton for a wide-open left wing 3-pointer. He had confidence his brother would make it, as he remained under his own basket.
“I know how great he is — he’s a great player,” Braxton said. “I trust him and he trusts me. Every year we get better playing with each other.”
The pair hooked up for an alley-op lob that resulted in a basket that same quarter.
“He’s been a blessing, because every workout I’ve been going to, especially when I was younger, he was beating me in everything,” Brooks said. “Being there with me every time I go to shoot. I’m not doing it by myself. Doing it with a best friend to go in there with, get work done and talk about our games. Talk about what we can improve, because we are both different players. We feed off each other (on-and-off) the court.”
The duo and coach might not have come to Jeff, if it weren’t for athletic director and Ball State and Jeff alum Peyton Stovall making a call to Mark, hiring him at the end of April. Stovall and Mark had a connection in the past from participating with the Indiana All-Star team, according to Braxton.
Junior Braxton had a breakout game in the semifinals of the Franciscan Health Hoops Classic pouring in 21 points, 14 boards, for a double-double, four assists and one block.
“I’m glad they are here,” Mark said. “We were in Alabama (at Alma Bryant High School near Mobile). I coached here all my life and I played at Auburn. When Jeff called and talked to me, it really perked them up because they wanted to play ball in Indiana.”
In a unique situation, the family was together on varsity for four years as the state allows players to compete as early as seventh grade.
“If we were going to come back, because we were in a good situation in Mobile,” Mark said. “If we were going to come back, we didn’t want to come back to a second-rate program. Jeff obviously has a lot of tradition, they were excited about that.”