FISHERS - In a hot fieldhouse on the outskirts of Indianapolis recently, IPFW men's basketball coach Tony Jasick sat a mere glance away from Concordia Lutheran senior D.J. McCall, who was competing in his umpteenth summer circuit game. It wasn't the first time that Jasick had closely observed the high-flying Cadet wing, not even close. And it certainly won't be the last during this recruiting period, which wraps up next Sunday.
I found the situation to be terribly ironic because a question, which has been posed to me countless times is, “Why doesn't IPFW recruit this city better?”
I'll answer that conundrum with a more telling question.
What players in the Fort Wayne area during the tenures of former Mastodon coach Dane Fife, and now Jasick, who is in his ninth year with the program, are you talking about exactly?
“We recruit Fort Wayne as hard as we possibly can,” Jasick said. “If there is a prospective student-athlete in Fort Wayne that we feel fits us academically, as well as athletically, we'll recruit him as hard as anybody will.”
History shows that Jasick is telling the truth.
When Justin Jordan was lighting up area teams for North Side a few years back, Fife was all over him. That diligence paid off, ultimately, but not initially, as Jordan spurned the Mastodons for Saint Louis, before transferring back to IPFW after one season with the Billikins.
Jordan suffered a career-ending knee injury last summer and is finishing up his academic career, while helping the IPFW coaching staff.
“Justin was going to be a really good story for us,” Jasick said. “But I couldn't care less about his impact on recruiting (locally), because we are dealing with a young man who is going through a really, really difficult situation. One hundred percent of my focus is on making sure that we help him continue to be successful in the classroom, help him get his degree, and set himself up for a bright future.”
Fort Wayne hasn't lacked for basketball talent over recent winters. This city has produced players that have gone on to some of the best programs in the Midwest.
Jasick and Fife would've loved to have had an opportunity to sign players such as DeShaun Thomas (Ohio State), Bryson Scott and Rapheal Davis (Purdue), V.J. Beachem (Notre Dame), Grant Leiendecker (Butler) or Russell Byrd (Michigan State). However, expecting an 18-year-old to turn down a nationally-renowned program, even if it truly is in his best interest to do so, for IPFW isn't realistic.
Critics have pointed to a handful of cases which, in their unprofessional opinion, exhibit the errors of the Mastodon coaches' ways.
Snider High School product Reggie Hearn just completed a magnificent career at Northwestern, but in fairness to IPFW, no one, including Hearn himself, ever saw that coming.
IPFW did watch Hearn during his senior season with the Panthers, and even spoke to him about coming to the school and being part of the basketball program, which is more than any other Division I program had done.
Hearn elected to go to Northwestern and the rest is history, as he went from a walk-on to a scrub to a star.
Northrop guard Brenton Scott was initially recruited by IPFW, but after the Mastodons signed heralded point guard Johnny Marlin and athletic combo guard Isaiah McCray, they really had no place on the roster for Scott.
When Marlin elected to transfer last spring, Scott had already verbally committed to play for the Sycamores, and Jasick's philosophy is that he isn't going to poach another program's players.
Hearn's Snider teammate, J.R. Sims, signed with Eastern Michigan, and he's been solid for the Eagles after redshirting. However, in his two seasons (20 starts and never averaged more than 5.8 points per game) he's hardly made IPFW's evaluation of him look unequivocally incorrect.
The list of players that have left Fort Wayne after being ignored by the IPFW staff - and enjoyed successful athletic and academic careers at the mid-major level - is essentially non-existent.
The list of players that have left Fort Wayne for mid-major programs and failed to succeed either socially, academically, or athletically, to be truthful, is quite long.
Over the course of the upcoming seasons, Fort Wayne may produce a number of players that could possibly be in IPFW's scope of talent.
The Mastodons have already offered a scholarship to Blackhawk Christian's Joey Morlan, while their coaches are closely observing players such as McCall, Justin Mitchell (Wayne), Chandler White (Carroll), Steve McElvene (New Haven), and Caleb Swanigan (Homestead).
“We've been able to get some quality student-athletes, who have done some good things over the last couple of years,” Jasick said. “The reception (locally) that we got after our six-game win streak to finish the year was really, really nice for our team. Hopefully, that is a sign of things to come.”