Stein ready to take next hoop step

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
South Putnam’s Lillie Stein signs to play college basketball for Franklin College. Witnessing (front) are her parents, Karly and Dustin Stein. Also witnessing (back, from left) were South Putnam head coach Brian Gardner and assistant coach Jill Newton.
Banner Graphic/JOEY BENNETT

Eagle standout off to Franklin

Lillie Stein concluded her South Putnam basketball career this winter as one of the school’s top performers ever.

After leading the Eagles to back-to-back sectional titles, Stein was rewarded for her efforts by being named honorable mention all-state, all-Western Indiana Conference and the Putnam County “Player of the Year.”

Fortunately for Stein, her last memory on the basketball court won’t be a regional loss to Triton Central in the Greenfield-Central Regional, as the high-scoring guard signed last month to play collegiately for Franklin College.

“It’s great,” she said. “I’ve wanted to play college basketball since I was little. When my sister [Sydney, now a senior player at Goshen College] left to go play in college, I wanted to go even more.”

Stein had a solid junior season for the Eagles, but ramped up her game this winter and averaged 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

“I definitely got a lot better this year,” she said. “I played AAU last summer, and that gave me a lot of confidence, more experience and more exposure to tougher opponents.”

Stein also ran cross country for the first time, and succeeded far more than she expected by qualifying for the semistate and actually delaying her ability to start basketball practice in the fall.

“It definitely helped me to get in better shape,” she said.

With the Grizzlies, a Division III school which competes in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, Stein figures to use her scoring ability to earn playing time.

“They told me I’d definitely be one of their shooters,” she said. “I’ll be going up there to play in some open gyms, and that will be good to get with the girls.”

Franklin had a 7-17 record last season, but was much improved over the previous season boosted by Cascade grad Bayleigh Walker, who was a second-team all-HCAC selection and also made the league’s all-freshman team.

The Grizzlies have several players from nearby schools, including senior-to-be Maddie O’Day of Plainfield and sophomore-to-be Maddy Gary of Indian Creek. Addie Rund of Indian Creek will also be a freshman at Franklin this fall.

Stein will major in elementary education with a focus on special education.

Her coach, Brian Gardner, sees her career continuing to blossom at the college level.

“One of the best things about Lillie is the improvement she showed from her freshman year through her senior year,” Gardner said. “Over the past three years of being the varsity coach, she’s the most improved players we had during that time. She was somebody last year who always had that offensive ability, but she put it all together and was a threat every night on the court.

“She was that emotional leader for us in getting everybody on the right page.”

Gardner sees that leadership trend continuing.

“At the next level, she’s going to work hard and keep doing those things,” he said. “She also has the ability to defend. A lot of times she had to defend people on the post, and the other team’s best player, and she did a great job with that. I think she’ll be even more of a surprise for them on the defensive level.”

Stein overcame a tendency toward foul trouble that sidelined her for much more of her junior season than Gardner would have liked.

“She got a lot of ‘84-feet’ fouls that weren’t very smart,” he said. “She took what she had, and didn’t have those silly fouls this year. She made aggressive plays, but put herself in a position where she could stay on the court much longer.”

Stein and teammate Miranda Bieghler (a future opponent at HCAC member school Manchester) both leave big holes to fill for the 2018-19 version of the Eagles.

“It’s going to be very, very tough shoes for our younger players to replace those two,” he said. “That’s the thing about high school basketball, that you have to keep finding people to do that.”