Plymouth’s Mercer, Bales teaming up as All-Star Series kicks off tonight
GREENFIELD — Plymouth basketball standout Mack Mercer and his coach have been doing a little carpooling lately.
Mercer was selected in April as one of the six core players on the IndyStar.com’s Junior All-Star team, when PHS head coach Ryan Bales was also selected as one of just three coaches to the team, and the two have been enjoying the off-the-court time they’ve been spending together lately.
They rode together to Tuesday’s practice session in Indianapolis, and they’ll be traveling together again tonight as the All-Star Series kicks off with a game between the Indiana and Kentucky Junior All-Star teams at Greenfield-Central High School at approximately 7 p.m. The home-and-home series will continue Saturday with a game at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, again scheduled for approximately 7 o’clock, and next week the Indiana Juniors will again showcase their talents during a pair of in-state games with the Indiana Senior All-Stars at Sullivan and Tipton Monday and Wednesday, with those games roughly slated for 8 p.m.
“It’s kind of neat that we get to do it together. We’ve been taking car trips together, which gives us a chance to talk a little bit more,” said Bales. “He and I have a pretty good relationship. We run into each other a lot, and he stops into the office a lot, so it’s a great honor to be a coach on this team, but also it’s a little more special to spend more time with him outside of what we do for Plymouth.”
Mercer echoed his coaches sentiments, saying Bales’ presence in the All-Star Series has also helped make him more comfortable with the process as well as given him a better understanding of his new coaches’ expectations.
“I was really happy when I found out that he was going to be an assistant coach,” said Mercer. “Going into things like that you want to be familiar with the players and coaches so you feel comfortable. With Coach Bales being a coach, I definitely feel comfortable with him, and that’s going to really help right away playing just because I know what he expects and how they want us to play being able to communicate with him. Not knowing any of the other coaches, I kind of get what he’s expecting and what the other coaches are expecting, so hopefully I can make an impact.”
Mercer is a 6-9 junior at Plymouth who helped lead his team to a stellar 21-4 sectional championship season this past winter with team-leading per-game averages of 8.47 rebounds and 3.26 blocks an outing to go with 19 points earned at a 56 percent floor clip and 82 percent free throw average, and basketball aficionados around the state have been watching him closely to see which college he’ll choose. While he says at the moment he’s most seriously considering Bellmont, Boston College or Indiana State, Mercer is keeping his options open for now. The All-Star Series will give him a preview of the kind of next-level talent he’ll be up against as a college player. Conversely, it should also give college coaches a chance to see what Mercer can do alongside and against the state’s top talent.
As one of the Junior team’s core six scheduled to play in all four games in the series along with IU commit James Blackmon, Jr. of Marion, Indiana State commit Bryant McIntosh of Greensburg and Trey Lyles of Indianapolis Arsenal Tech — who rescinded his verbal commitment to IU back in August — as well as highly sought-after Park Tudor small forward Trevon Blueitt and JaQuan Lyle of Evansville Bosse, Mercer is in elite company, and he’s out to prove he belongs there.
“I was just really pumped that I had made the Junior All-Stars, and especially the core group,” said Mercer. “It’s really cool getting the opportunity to play with five other top players in the state, as well as from the north and south.
“Getting the opportunity to play with more high-level players, that can give me the opportunity to show to the college coaches and recruiters that I’m able to play with those high-level players. I’m hoping to make a good impact for the next four games just to prove that.”
While the All-Star pick is both an honor and an opportunity for Mercer, the chance to coach such an eye-popping roster has also been a coaches dream come true for Bales.
“There are a lot of coaches that are very deserving around the state, a lot of great coaches that are definitely better than I am, but it is an honor, and I try not to take it for granted and realize it’s something that only happens once in a lifetime, so I’m just trying to enjoy it and really get to know the players in our practices and our games,” said Bales.
“We had a group practice with them the other day, and I’m just impressed. The team is very talented; there are a lot of kids that are ranked nationally. You’ve got some guys that could be one and done in college and go to pro; you’ve got some kids that are being looked at by some of the top programs in the nation, and you have some other guys that maybe fill a role on that team that are incredible as well. It’s neat to go to practice and get to know them and you see their games yet you really don’t know them personally, and I walked away from practice just really impressed. They’re just very humble and they work hard and they compete. There’s a reason why they’re as good as they are, and it’s not just a talent thing.”