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INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Pacers announced Wednesday changes in the basketball front office. Larry Bird, President of Basketball Operations for the last nine years, will step down, former team President Donnie Walsh returns as President of Basketball Operations, and Kevin Pritchard will be the General Manager, replacing David Morway, who resigned Tuesday.

"I fully understand Larry’s decision to step away and can’t thank him enough for what he has done for the Pacers,” said Pacers Owner Herb Simon. “I can’t ask for a better transition at this time than to have Donnie back to work with Kevin in overseeing the basketball side.”

"I’m going to take some time off and evaluate what I will do in the future,” said Bird. “This has nothing to do with any conflict or anything else, it’s just time. I considered leaving last year, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, I like the position this team is in and with Kevin and Donnie, the basketball side won’t miss a beat.”

Walsh left the Pacers in 2008 to serve as President, Basketball Operations, for the New York Knicks for two years. He was a consultant with the Knicks last season. Walsh was the Pacers’ General Manager from 1986-88 before becoming the franchise president from 1988-2008.

“After discussing this with Herb and Larry, I’m very comfortable in coming back and doing whatever I can to help the Pacers continue their return to prominence in the NBA,” said Walsh. “This is home in so many ways and I couldn’t be more proud about coming back and being part of this great franchise again.”

Pritchard joined the Pacers prior to last season as Director of Player Personnel. The native Hoosier (born in Bloomington, Ind.) was Portland’s general manager from 2007-10 prior to joining the Pacers.

“This is a great opportunity,” said Pritchard. “To be able to work with someone like Donnie Walsh, whose record with the Pacers and Knicks speaks for itself, and to continue to build on what Larry has done here is a great honor.”

There will be no other management changes in Pacers Sports & Entertainment with Simon continuing as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Jim Morris as President and Rick Fuson as Chief Operating Officer.

(Courtesy of the Indiana Pacers)


Nicole Rogers drives the lane during the North-South Indiana All-Star Classic in Muncie. (SJ Photo by William Gibson)


MUNCIE, Ind. – Ask any athlete who has played in one of Indiana’s North-South All-Star games, no matter the sport, and they will tell you what an honor it is to participate. After Sunday’s double-header at the Muncie Fieldhouse, count Kokomo’s D.J. Balentine and Western’s Nicole Rogers in that group. Both seniors represented Howard County in the 2012 North-South Indiana All-Star Basketball Classic, sponsored by Hoosier Basketball Magazine.

“It really is a honor to play with the best-of-the-best in Indiana one last time,” said Rogers, who has a pair of smaller all-star games left before joining the IUPUI Jaguars this fall. “A lot of us have played together, so it was really fun. What a way to close out your senior year before we all go to college.”

Rogers played for the North squad with Indiana Miss Basketball Jessica Rupright, a 6-2 center from Norwell. Unfortunately, the pair could not carry the load and the North fell to the South 87-79. But she did enjoy her first trip to the historic Fieldhouse.

“I like the older gym atmosphere, and this place is very nice,” she said. “The atmosphere is more fun; it seems louder. I love the history and there have been a lot of great players who have played here.”

Rogers struggled in the first half, missing both shots she took – although she appeared to get fouled on her second attempt. But in the second half, she knocked down two shots – including one of her deadly 3-pointers, to finish with five points. She also grabbed two offensive rebounds and a defensive board.

“You have to work hard in this kind of game to get our position because everyone is the best from their team,” Rogers said.

Balentine also was on the losing end of the scoreboard as his North team fell to a very fast South squad 116-102.

“Hey, we had a blast all weekend and it is just an honor to be here,” said Balentine, who once again donned his bright orange shoes. “

The University of Evansville recruit started for the North team and scored an early 3-pointer. A few minutes later, he led a North fast break and brought the crowd to its feet with a two-handed slam dunk.

“The shot felt very good,” said Balentine. “And yes, I even got that little dunk in there – that was fun.”

Balentine finished the game with 13 points, one rebound and one assist in nearly 20 minutes of play. The Wildkat senior still has a few games left in his high school career – a pair of games against the Indiana Junior All-Star squad, a pair of games against the Kentucky All-Star team as a member of the Indiana All-Star Team, and another classic on June 16. He then heads to Evansville to lace up his orange Nike’s as a member of the Purple Aces.

“I am excited to play for the Indiana All-Stars next,” he said. “That is going to really cap my career.”

And what a pair of careers Balentine and Rogers have had. They have represented their schools and Howard County very well – and they are not quite done yet.


The Western Panthers celebrate its second consecutive sectional championship. (Photo by WILLIAM GIBSON)


For the second consecutive year, the Kokomo Wildkats and the Western Panthers have captured sectional championships and will advance to the Sweet Sixteen regional round of the IHSAA boys basketball tournament. Class 4A No. 7 and tourney host Kokomo (20-4) moves on thanks to a dominating 83-59 victory over Logansport, and Class 3A No. 12 Western (19-5) advances after holding-off a stubborn host Twin Lakes squad, 54-52.

For the Panthers, it marks the sixth sectional title for head coach Andy Weaver and the third time his squad has pulled a repeat championship (2003-2004 and 2006-2007). But it was not an easy route to the trophy as the host Indians (15-9) proved a handful in the finale.

“I knew before the draw that whoever had to play Twin Lakes on this floor, they were going to be tough,” said Weaver. “They are gritty and they are tough – they never make a basketball game pretty.”

Weaver said that after the Panthers cruised through Peru (64-39) and West Lafayette (58-43), he knew the championship was not going to be as easy. Twin Lakes is known for defending its home floor, having a good student section, and playing tough basketball.

“I knew this was not going to be one of those types of game. Our total emphasis was going to be rebound, rebound, rebound and interior defense,” said Weaver. “Our guys persevered and found a way; it was a total team effort.”

The Panthers jumped to an early 18-14 lead and led at the half 29-28. They outscored Twin Lakes 14-9 in the third stanza to take a six point lead into the final quarter and outlasted an Indian rally for the win.

“I said here they come, and then they got the lead on us at 49-48 and 52-51,” said Weaver of the TL rally, in which the Indians scored seven straight points. Evan Warden then hit a basket at the 2:30-mark to give the Panthers a 53-52 lead. Western held Twin Lakes scoreless for the final three minutes to secure the victory and hoist the trophy.

“We knew it was going to be tough but we pulled the plays out when we needed to,” said Western senior John Capps.

Matt Orr led the Panthers with 14 points, followed by Warden and Ben Constable with 12.

Western will play No. 3 Andrean Saturday in the Plymouth Regional. See page 10 for a preview of the game.


To no one’s surprise, the defending Class 4A state runners-up Kokomo Wildkats rolled through its own sectional to claim the school’s IHSAA record 72nd boys basketball sectional championship. Kokomo won its two sectional games by a whopping 54 points while securing the program’s second straight 20-win season and 23rd overall. Kokomo has recorded back-to-back 20-win seasons six times in 109 years, including five in a row from 1958-1962.

“It is great to win it here in front of the fans,” said Kokomo’s Indiana All-Star candidate D.J. Balentine, who is three shy of becoming the third greatest scorer in Kokomo history behind legends Jim “Goose” Ligon and Jimmy Rayl. “It is the most sectional wins (in state history) and it is a great honor.”

Sophomore Tayler Persons, who scored 20 points in Kokomo’s semi-final win over McCutcheon (64-34), echoed Balentine’s comments.

“It is so awesome; 72 championships is just so awesome,” said Persons. “My freshman year we go to state, and now we are here (in the Sweet Sixteen); it is just an amazing feeling.”

Kokomo head coach Brian McCauley, who is leading the Kats to its second consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance, talked about the pressure his team was under.

“All of the pressure was on us in this tournament,” he said. “We are at home after playing a tough season, a phenomenal season. But they know it is a one game series in the sectionals, and they came out and played hard. They played smart and played together.”

The coach said he was pleased with aspects of Kokomo’s game that did not include scoring field goals.

“We have rebounded well the past two games, and we have defended well,” he said. “We are playing together offensively and we are getting to the free throw line. We got to the line 22 times (against McCutcheon) and 34 times tonight (against Logansport). Hopefully we can keep making improvements.”

Kokomo will play No. 4 Carmel in the opening game of the Marion Regional. See page 10 for a preview of the game.


For eight minutes, it appeared the miracle run of the Eastern Comets in the Class 2A Tipton Sectional might continue. Fresh off a 78-70 overtime upset win against Taylor, the Comets (5-17) trailed No. 7 Tipton by a single point, 12-11. But that is where the run ended as Mike Crawford scored eight points in a 24-0 second quarter Tipton run as the Blue Devils (22-3) earned a berth in its own regional with a 66-38 victory.

Tipton plays Fountain Central (8-14) in game two of the Tipton Regional, following the 10 a.m. Northfield (21-3) versus Frankton (14-10) contest. The championship is set for 8 p.m.

Interesting Tipton Regional note: Frankton will play in its first-ever regional after defeating Muncie Burris 53-45 for the school’s first boys basketball sectional championship in 90 years of IHSAA membership.

(Douglas Hockney contributed to this story)