Battle for Midwest Supremacy
Indiana Elite, Spiece, EG10 and others square off in Indy
The Spiece Fieldhouse in Fort Wayne, Ind. is an extraordinary tribute to the rich basketball history of the hoops-crazed state. This weekend, it will double as the central venue for the Bill Hensley Memorial Run-N-Slam which, over the years, has established itself as one of the best events of the spring season.
The Run-N-Slam traditionally brings together every major Midwest program regardless of sneaker affiliation, and this year will be no different. If anything, the field is enhanced with the abundance of in-state talent, as the Hoosier state boasts three Top 25 teams in the latest 17U Five-Star rankings. This year's Spiece field will also include 20% of the Scout.com top 100 players for 2012.
Two programs traditionally dominate the spring/summer circuit in Indiana, with No. 13 Indiana Elite and No. 17 Spiece Indy Heat battling to collect the top talent from the cities out to the cornfields. But if you want to see these two powerhouses play head-to-head, you'd better stay tuned to the happenings in Fort Wayne because this weekend will be the only time this season the in-state rivals play in the same event.
Indy Elite fell in Merrillville to No. 21 Terry Porter Elite two weeks ago at the Nike Spring Showdown, but the loaded squad has not been at full strength all season. Unfortunately, that won't be the case at Spiece, either. According to program director Mike Fox, seven-foot center Peter Jurkin will sit again this weekend with an ongoing knee injury, while fellow IU commit Jeremy Hollowell is still awaiting clearance for his wrist and knee ailments. Meanwhile, the host Indy Heat enter their event after going a perfect 5-0 last week at EYBL Dallas.
But when talking Indy hoops you can't sleep on the upstart No. 22 Eric Gordon All-Stars. They're contenders this weekend also after cruising to the title in their own event last weekend in Merrillville, where scoring guard D.J. Balentine was a monster, just as he was early last month when he lit up Indiana Elite for 28 points in the Indyball.com Shootout championship game.
As for the rest of the 17U field, No. 10 All-Ohio Red and No. 23 Mac Irvin Fire have both left Fort Wayne with trophies in past years. TP Elite and No. 24 All-Iowa Attack bring the field to seven ranked teams in Indiana's version of the Second City. Also keep an eye out for J.P. Tokoto and the Wisconsin Playground Warriors who look to jump back into the rankings after a disappointing performance in Kansas a week ago.
The 16U division will feature another in-state stable of thoroughbreds as the second-ranked Eric Gordon All-Stars are favored heavily in the juniors-to-be bracket. Tom Crean has proved he is not just a "one-class wonder" when it comes to recruiting in-state as he has received commitments from 2013 Indianapolis big-timers Colin Hartman and Devin Davis. The future Hoosiers have teamed up with fellow Big 10 recuit Basil Smotherman (Purdue) to help a loaded EG10 team steamroll through the competition so far this spring.
Be that as it may, there will be a bunch of tough challenges standing in the way. Their foremost threats will come from the Land of Lincoln. The fifth-ranked Mac Irvin Fire have the most imposing and arguably most talented player in the field in Jahlil Okafor, a 15-year-old who is quickly approaching 7-feet tall. Organized by former NFL wideout Tai Streets, MeanStreets is notorious for getting the absolute most out of their players. They have a talented array of players at all positions led by high school teammates Alex Foster and Jaylon Tate.
No. 20 Ohio Varsity Blue will be present and looking for two in a row after taking King James two weeks ago in Akron, and teams like the KC 76ers, Indiana Elite South, Seattle Rotary and the Michigan Mustangs will also be in the hunt this weekend.