PLYMOUTH — At the start of the Indiana All-Star series, Mack Mercer set out to prove he could play with the best basketball talent the state had to offer.
The Plymouth Junior All-Star pick scored a combined 19 points as Indiana swept Kentucky in the Junior All-Star series over the weekend, then put in a pair of balanced performances in the in-state Junior versus Senior All-Star games Monday and Wednesday with eight points and three rebounds in that series opener and four points, two assists, a steal and a game-high four blocks Wednesday.
“I feel like I was able to contribute in just the all-around game, defensively and offensively,” said Mercer. “I feel like I proved I can play with those guys, and I played with some great players.”
The opener with the Kentucky Junior All-Stars was particularly thrilling for Mercer as Indiana battled back from a 45-39 halftime deficit to edge Kentucky 108-102 in overtime at Greenfield Central High School in Greenfield, In.
Mercer gave Indiana a spark late with a big steal and assist on a breakaway dunk by Fort Wayne Concordia’s D.J. McCall and a pair of free throws to put Indiana up by three before Kentucky’s Kelan Martin buried a 3-pointer from the right side with 7.8 seconds to force OT at 90-all. Mercer opened the extra period with a 3-pointer of his own from deep off the left wing and converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to help put Indiana over the top, finishing with nine points in the contest.
It was one of the most exciting wins the 6-9 junior says he has ever experienced.
“I would put that up in the top five just because of the Kentucky and Indiana rivalry. They controlled the game the entire time, and we were able to battle back. It was just an exciting game the entire time. I would say that rates in the top five wins for me all-time,” said Mercer.
“It’s a huge rivalry. That was the main thing that we wanted to focus on was to get those two wins and sweep them. They have a heck of a team — I heard probably the best in 10, 15 years. They have some great players, but we had some even better players and we were able to get those wins.”
While the Juniors weren’t able to take a game from their Senior counterparts in this week’s in-state games, Mercer again found ways to contribute, scoring eight points with three caroms Monday at Sullivan High School and showing off some versatility Wednesday night with another three rebounds, four blocks, four points, a pair of assists and a steal in the rematch at Tipton.
Mercer was reunited on the floor with a pair of area rivals in those games as he faced off against Triton grad Clay Yeo and Mishawaka Marian’s Demetrius Jackson in the trio’s last meeting on a high school floor.
“It was a great honor to get to play against the Senior team. They’re a heck of a team; I think they’ll be able to get a couple of wins against Kentucky this weekend,” Mercer said. “They just were able to attack with every single player they had. Clay and Demetrius were extremely accurate on the offensive and defensive end. They’re going to do great things in college. It was really cool and kind of a surreal moment getting to play against those two one last time.”
Along with giving Mercer the chance to showcase his talents on a big stage, the All-Star games also gave him a chance to play alongside some of the nation’s top-recruited ballers on an Indiana roster that included IU recruit James Blackmon, Jr. , Indiana State prospect Bryant McIntosh, Trey Lyles of Indianapolis Arsenal Tech, Trevon Blueitt of Park Tudor and JaQuan Lyle of Evansville Bosse.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life so far getting to play with James Blackmon and Blueitt and Trey Lyles and JaQuan Lyle and Bryant McIntosh. Those guys are the best in the state, best all around here in the Midwest,” said Mercer. “They all can shoot, they all can do it all. It was a really great experience getting to play with some great players.”
The icing on the cake for Mercer is that he was also joined in the All-Star games by PHS head coach Ryan Bales, who was selected as one of three coaches for the Indiana Juniors after helping guide the Pilgrims to a 21-4 finish and the program’s first Sectional 19 championship since 2010.
Mercer said he enjoyed the extra bonding time he and Bales had together and that his Plymouth coach’s presence on the bench helped calm him in what could have been a nerve-wracking experience under the bright lights.
“It was a great experience for both of us, kind of like a bonding thing just spending all that time together,” said Mercer. “One cool thing was having him on the bench, hearing what he had to say because I was kind of familiar with his terminology and things like that. I wouldn’t say I got flustered or anything, but he’s just kind of a calming presence for me and I think that really helped with my play.”