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County girls teams compete in IWU shootout

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PANTHERS: Eastbrook sophomore Johwen McKim eyes a free throw attempt during a game in the IWU Shootout on Friday.
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EAGLES: Oak Hill senior Taylor Westgate positions herself for a rebound during the IWU shootout Friday afternoon.
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GIANTS: Marion senior Ellie Vermilion follows through on a three-point attempt during a game in the IWU Shootout played in Bill Green Arena.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

More than 60 high school girls basketball teams from across Indiana converged in Grant County on Friday for Indiana Wesleyan’s annual beginning of the summer shootout.

From Indiana Wesleyan’s perspective, it gives Wildcat coaches and players a chance to meet and mingle with potential recruits and help those visiting teams start the process of what hopefully will be successful seasons.

“We want to be really connected in the state of Indiana with high schools and we want to be a part of their success,” said IWU women’s coach Ethan Whaley. “We feel like this shootout is providing an opportunity for teams to get together and compete against teams they wouldn’t throughout the year, maybe provide a little bit of a team building experience. We feel like we get to be a part of their success. So when we celebrate them after they win sectionals, regionals, state championships, we feel like were a part of it. It’s a really good day and its a really fun environment for everyone involved.”

With so many teams all guaranteed to play four games each, five courts inside IWU’s Recreation and Wellness Center were employed, including two inside Luckey Arena. Bill Green Arena at Marion High School and Fredenberger Court also were used.

Four of Grant County’s five schools were involved in the competition on Friday, and all were trying to win, but there was certainly more to the day than what the scoreboard would read at the end of the two, 15-minute running clock halves. 

“I like this because we’re playing schools that we would not play in the regular season, they’re all big schools,” said Troy Simpson, assistant coach at Ole Miss who was running things for the Indians while coach Omega Tandy was out of town. “We’re getting our eyes open, especially our freshman, to what high school basketball is all about. Things they could do before in junior high, they can’t do them now. We may not win a lot today, but the opportunity and experience is invaluable.”

Grant County was home to two of the best teams in the state during the 2018-19 season, but both Oak Hill’s Class 2A state champions and Marion’s 3A final four teams were hit hard by graduation.

Six of the top eight players in coach Todd Law’s rotation all donned caps and gowns last weekend and picked up their diplomas at Oak Hill. Law said the Central Indiana Conference also imposes a separate moratorium week on its member schools and he questioned whether to bring his team to the shootout because of it being the first week they’ve touched a basketball.

“The big thing that happened today, wins and losses don’t matter, is kids starting to understand the kind of role they’re going to have to play now because obviously its going to change a lot with seven seniors gone,” he said. “One thing I don’t think they even realize yet, they’ve gone the last one, two or three years going against one of the best teams in the state of Indiana every single day in practice so that has got to help give them some confidence. It’s still not the same as once you get them out there on the floor where they’re into those spots and those roles. We’re just going to be real patient with them.”

Law said he’ll take his girls to another shootout at Ball State on Friday, but that will be the extent of summer competition.

“We’re just going to be spending time in the gym trying to get better and improving their skill set,” Law said. 

The Giants navigated their way to an NCC, sectional and regional championships with a six-girl rotation last season, but three of those girls also graduated. Marion coach Lawrence Jordan does return Purdue-recruit RaShaya Kyle and four-year starter at point guard Ellie Vermilion, so his Friday was the start of putting other pieces in place.  

“It’s an assessment day. I’m trying to see who can do what under certain circumstances,” Jordan said. “I’ve got about three of four freshmen, they’re not ready for varsity but with the numbers situation, they’re probably going to have to play varsity. I’m trying to see who can handle it, who is ready. ... I’m just kind of assessing and seeing where we’re at and seeing who I feel like can be ready for varsity competition once school gets back in.

“I’m comfortable. I’ve got three starters coming back, I consider Olivia (Aguilar) a starter,” he added. “I’ve got other girls that can plug the gap who’ve just got to come to play every night.”

Eastbrook started its summer competition on Thursday evening with a pair of games in the Delta League before playing four more times on Friday. The Panthers lost leading scorer Kylie Standfest and outside shooting threat Josalyn Martinez to graduation, but return a young, athletic nucleus, most who have played in sectional championship games the past two seasons. 

“What I want to see each time we go out on the floor is five girls playing as a unit,” Panther coach Jeff Liddick said of his summer objectives. “We’re focusing on the little things, really concentrating on blocking out, concentrating on setting a good screen or making a good cut, not just going through the motions of it.

“I told the girls ... we’re not going to keep track of our win loss record, our goal throughout this summer is to get better both collectively and individually,” he added. “The main thing this summer is to get the fundamental stuff down ... so when we get to the season we don’t have to think about it, we just do it.”