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June is time for local hoops teams to get busy

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

By now, it’s a well established fact June is an important developmental month for Indiana prep basketball teams and those sitting on the sidelines will be left behind.

School has been out one week and teams around the state are busy in the gym and competing against other schools in shootouts like the one Indiana Wesleyan University hosted Saturday. Games were staged on campus at Luckey Arena as well as Marion High’s Bill Green Arena and Mississinewa.

“The month of June is huge in Indiana because you can basically do what you want,” Eastbrook coach Greg Allison said. “You have practices, you get to play in these shootouts. ... We’ll play close to 15 games and get a lot of experience, but more than anything we’re trying to focus on getting better individually, and if we do that we get better as a team.”

Eastbrook, Madison-Grant and Oak Hill were among the some 70 varsity and junior varsity teams from around Indiana and elsewhere involved in the IWU Shootout. Marion was at another shootout at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Wildcats coach Greg Tonagel and his staff are well into their second decade of organizing the shootout and now other colleges are following suit. Taylor University hosted a shootout for the second straight year Friday with Madison-Grant among the participants.

“High school coaches want to get out and play and we hope we’re providing them with a platform to do that,” Tonagel said while observing games on the Luckey Arena court. “Word has gotten out that this is a great opportunity with great competition at a great facility, so the interest has been high the last couple years.

“This is a good recruiting day for us,” Tonagel continued. “Any time you bring 700 kids on campus for one day there’s going to be some you’re going to be interested in.”

Madison-Grant has been quite active in the first week of the June contact period with nine games, including the four in the IWU Shootout. The Argylls defeated Indianapolis-based International and Tindley on Tuesday at Grant Park, Westfield, and won all three games at Taylor.

After winning their first game at IWU the Argylls lost to Winchester featuring a 6-foot-9 player, but coach Brian Trout has been extremely pleased with the early performances.

“Both the International and Tindley games were against really big physical teams, and we don’t have much size,” Trout said. “We’re going to be outsized all year, and that’s why we’re really stressing getting on the boards and blocking out. I thought we did a great job of rebounding and playing defense all week.”

Oak Hill ended the shootout with a convincing victory over Union City and finished 4-0, having also defeated Manchester, South Adams and Blue River Valley. Coach Kevin Renbarger has the bulk of last season’s 10-13 team back and can blend in reinforcements from a 19-1 junior varsity.

“I was primarily looking at seeing how they play together and I thought they played really well together,” Renbarger said. “We tried different combinations and evaluating all the things we are looking for in the summertime in regards to the intangibles and hard work and trying to apply some of the things we do over the course of the week. I thought we got off to a nice start.”

Renbarger is optimistic the experience the Golden Eagles gained will allow them to bounce back from last year’s losing season, the fourth in his 15 years as coach. They still skew young with four juniors filling key roles.

“Offensively, we are going to be able to put at least eight kids on the floor who will have equal scoring ability,” Renbarger said. “Teams will be hard pressed to take one element or person away and not have another step up. That’s what I’ve seen early on.

“We’re going to be able to shoot the ball well, and they play well together. The juniors and seniors have played together for quite a while and they are just a very cohesive group,” he added.

A year ago, Allison had just taken over as the Eastbrook coach when he entered the Panthers into the IWU Shootout at the last minute. Allison said his team has made progress since then and participation has increased with around 20 players involved in the spring and summer open gyms.

Yet, several of the Panthers players had other commitments that left Allison with a depleted squad. At one point, he had only four available players on the court after one became ill. Eastbrook still opened the day with a victory over Union City that started at 8 a.m.

“That’s a who wants to get out of bed and compete game,” Allison said, “and we didn’t have an excuse (Union City) drove a lot farther than we did. We brought up a lot of kids who were on the JV team last year and they got their first taste of varsity experience.

“From what we’ve seen here, Alex Baker’s played really well, and Zeke Binkerd’s done a nice job of leadership,” Allison continued. “I think we improved today just simply by competition.”

Eastbrook will play shootouts later this month at Huntington University and Indianapolis, while Oak Hill plays Friday at Huntington and Saturday at Norwell before wrapping up with the IWU Super Hoops tournament June 21-23.

The local schools will play 15 to 20 games this month in addition to the open gyms and conditioning work. Trout said conditioning started for many of his players shortly after the Argylls season ended with a sectional final loss to Alexandria.

“They’ve all committed to the weight room and getting stronger and growing into their bodies,” Trout said.

“We now are finding out roles and where everybody fits, so this stuff really helps out with that,” he added. “Guys are getting to show what they can do and stepping up.”