Nolan Hackleman named Putnam County Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year

Tuesday, April 2, 2024
Nolan Hackleman helped North Putnam become the first school to win four Putnam County Classic titles in a row, averaging 17.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 2.4 apg during the 2023-24 season while also reaching a fourth sectional final in five years. Hackleman’s efforts earned him the title of Putnam County Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year for the 2023-24 season as voted on by the coaches of Putnam County.
Banner Graphic/TRENT SCOTT

With most of its roster returning from the 2022-23 season, there was plenty of anticipation of what North Putnam would do in the 2023-24 boys’ basketball campaign.

It turned into a nearly identical campaign as the previous year with the Cougars finishing with a 16-10 record, a trip to the sectional final and its fourth-straight Putnam County Classic title.

Driving the team forward throughout the season was senior Nolan Hackleman, a player always around the ball if not always the more attention-grabbing player on the floor on a given night.

Hackleman was always productive, averaging 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists a night, earning him Putnam County Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year honors as voted on by the coaches of Putnam County.

The North Putnam senior finished with 463 points, 106 rebounds, 62 assists, 19 steals and two blocks on the season, shooting 47 percent from the field, 35 percent from three and converting 106-of-150 free throws at 71 percent, the latter two both improvements over the previous year.

“The coaches wanted me to work on my free throw and three-point percentage,” Hackleman said about going into his senior season. “I got to the line a lot as a junior but I didn’t finish a high percentage of free throws, so I worked on that a lot.

“I changed my shot a little bit, which helped put more arch on my shot. I worked on my turnovers and those things made up the things I worked on.”

Playing for Indianan Ice out of the Legacy Couts in Lafayette, Hackleman had to balance time to work on his basketball skills in the offseason with his attention often being in demand thanks to success in track as well as the limited window before fall sports took hold.

“I play AAU at Legacy during the summer and a little bit of the spring,” Hackleman said. “I did miss a little anytime there was conflict with track.

“Aside from that, I worked during June with the team until soccer began, at which point I didn’t do a lot of work until the soccer season ended. Once it did, I was in the gym in the mornings.”

Only losing one senior in Brayden Monnett, the Cougars had high expectations heading into the new season with Hackleman noting many younger players and new faces made major contributions early on.

“We all had high expectations going into the year,” Hackleman said. “Losing Brayden was big as he did a lot for us last year but we had a lot of people coming back.

“Isaac (Pickel) looked great and showed a lot of growth. Everyone coming back played big minutes for us the previous year. Guys like Nolan Augusta stepped up for us; Brogan Woodall was big for us early and hit some big shots.

“Everyone had a positive mindset for the beginning of the year,” Hackleman added.

Filling the void left by Monnett was tough on a few levels though Hackleman said Matt Farrington was able to handle the playing side of the game.

“It took a couple of games,” Hackleman said. “Matt was someone we looked to to fill Braden’s position.

“He took care of the ball, put us in the right spots and knew what to do with the ball, which was huge for us. He ran our offense and toward the end of the season, Kaden caught on and helped run things when Matt was off the floor.”

As for his own game, Hackleman said he wanted to pick up from where he had left off the previous year but said it took time to find the right balance on the floor.

“I wanted to be more aggressive with my driving to put myself in better positions to score,” Hackleman noted. “At the beginning of the season, I was forcing things too much.

“I wanted to increase my role but the first couple of games were rough. Once we got past those first few games, I started to play within myself and not force things.

“I also looked to my teammates more because they are talented players as well,” Hackleman added. “That helped me as when they were in positions to do what they do, it helped me wait for my opportunity.”

North Putnam started out 2-0 before a five-game skid took hold, dropping three WIC games and losing tough home games against Parke Heritage and Cascade.

The Cougars started to find their rhythm at the Clinton Central Holiday tournament, beating Carroll soundly before nearly edging out Noblesville Homeschool and dropping a tough game to Western, though Hackleman said the series of games got the team rolling in the right direction.

“We had a tough stretch of games at the beginning of the season,” Hackleman said. “We had a break for the holidays, which got of us out of that stretch and when we came back, everyone was motivated.

“We had a great scouting report and gameplan for Carroll which (North Putnam head coach Vince) Brooks did a great job with. Everybody was pretty positive because we had turned our season around the previous year at around the same time, so in the back of our minds, we knew things weren’t over yet.

“When we came in early to play Carroll, we were pumped up for it,” Hackleman added. “That gave us more confidence and that confidence was important for this team.”

The development of Pickel was one of the key components at the time as Hackleman said the sophomore’s growing influence on the floor was helping to open up space for the rest of the team.

“Isaac was one of the missing puzzle pieces for our team,” Hackleman pointed out. “Teams didn’t know what to do with him and he’s still young; every game he plays, he’s getting that much better and he already showed incredible growth this year.

“Defenses had to do different things to guard Isaac inside and that helped get the ball moving as everyone knew their role finally. Anytime a team was more focused on someone like Isaac, that made the rest of us more dangerous.

“Matt, Brady (Barber) and Kaeden were freed up when teams had to guard Isaac and that allowed them to score, which it turn helped free up others to score as well,” Hackleman added.

Two wins to start the new year took North Putnam into a highly anticipated clash against Greencastle, one that started off rocky until the Cougars began to chip away at a large deficit, tying the game after three quarters of play but ultimately falling short at the end.

“Greencastle played really good that game; we didn’t play bad but we didn’t play our best that night,” Hackleman said about the regular-season matchup. “It left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths and we used it as fuel for the rest of the season.

“We used that to go on a big run. We played Monrovia the next night and we played with a lot more energy that night. You don’t want to lose a game like that but when you do, it gives you that extra bit of motivation.”

North Putnam followed the loss by ripping off nine-straight wins, including another Classic title by beating Greencastle 61-37 in the final, making the Cougar 2024 class the first to win the Classic every single year of their high school careers.

“There was pressure,” Hackleman said when asked about winning a fourth Classic title in a row. “We couldn’t overlook anyone. Cloverdale could shoot the ball well at times and we couldn’t look past that.

“We knew if we won that game, we’d likely play Greencastle in the final. We certainly couldn’t overlook a team that had just beat us, especially a good team like Greencastle. We stayed focus on the next game each time and it worked out for us.”

The winning streak was halted right before sectional play began by North Montgomery, a brief spook right before the postseason.

“That was a rough game,” Hackleman said. “North Montgomery was a physical team that played well that night. They did some different things and gave us different looks than we’d seen.

“It was good to see that in the regular season rather than sectional play. We had some things we could change and use those looks to practice against because we didn’t know if other teams would do those same things in sectional play.

“That really helped as it got our guys more prepared for sectional play,” Hackleman added.

North Putnam won its first two sectional games over Cloverdale and Southmont, though the latter game was a pulsating contest in the second half as the Mounties rallied and took a lead in the fourth quarter, only for the Cougars to take win the game in the closing moments.

“We were playing with a lot of confidence in the sectional,” Hackleman said. “The Southmont game got a little scary but I thought we handled their run well. We didn’t panic.

“Everyone rode the wave, which was nice. We used those first two games to stay loose and get ready for the final. We were just taking it one game at a time.”

The wins set up yet another sectional final against Parke Heritage and, true to the previous meetings, the Wolves bested the Cougars for a sectional title for the fourth time in five years.

“We had two goals going into the season: win the county and win the sectional,” Hackleman said. “We got one done but not the other. Parke Heritage is a good team and they’ve had our number.

“We really wanted to beat them and had a good gameplan. We tried to execute it but missed a lot of shots we normally make and they made a lot of plays like they normally do.

“It was hurtful as we wanted to win that game really bad,” Hackleman added. “We left it all out on the table. Everyone wanted it and it was sad for the season to be over. It’s more like a family than a team as I’ve played with those guys for several years.”

Despite ending on a similar beat as previous years, Hackleman said the team atmosphere made his senior year a memorable one.

“It was one of the greatest years of my life,” Hackleman said. “It never felt like it was my last year until it was over, which was a strange feeling.

“It was like every other season, being out there with my best friends. Everyone loved everyone, there was always a positive energy in practice and I’d call this season a success.

“We didn’t win the sectional like we wanted to but some of the memories and relationships we made, I’ll have those the rest of my life,” Hackleman added.

Hackleman also praised his teammates and coaches, crediting them for the success he had as a player across the past four years.

“It was a little rocky early and there were still stretches where I tried to do too much but I feel like my teammates and my coaches had confidence in me,” Hackleman said. “They put me in good positions, so I feel my success is their success, too.

“I’m not some Division I talent or even really a college talent. The reason I’m good is the people around me, the coaches I’ve had and the positions they’ve put me in.

“If they hadn’t done that, I’d just be another guys on the floor,” Hackleman added.

The senior also credited those that had come before him for his growth and development at North Putnam.

“These years have been great, some of the greatest of my life,” Hackleman said. “We were lucky enough to be around several great basketball players in my time here.

“My freshman and sophomore year, we had Mason Brooks, Aaron Huffman, Dane Spencer, Aaron Pickle, Zach Huff, Ellis Lyons and others. Being around them helped me grow as a player because I was playing against them in practice every day, which was not easy, and I had to learn and grow quickly.

“It was neat to be able to play with those guys and learn from them on the floor,” Hackleman added. “By the time we were juniors and seniors, we were ready to play because of those guys. They helped set the standard.”

While his attention is now aimed at qualifying for the IHSAA Boys’ Track and Field State Finals for a second-straight year, Hackleman said the culture created by the basketball team at North Putnam was something those to come would be able to enrich themselves in just as he had done the past four years.

“Our culture on our team has been built in a way that we’re a family that’s playing for each other,” Hackleman said. “I don’t know what other teams are like but our team is special in a way that we’re a family.

“Everyone at North Putnam knows each other and that’s a nice thing as were not just teammates: we’re friends and family. People coming in from middle school don’t know what that’s like until they get in here and see how we’re all together.

“That will continue because coach Brooks really emphasizes that with us and that something that others will take up now.”

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