Memorial Day weekend generally marks the kick-off to summer vacation for most high school students, but for the horde of college basketball prospects that will convene at various gyms across Fort Wayne over the next three days, relaxing better not be in their vocabulary.
The annual Gym Rats Memorial Day Run-N-Slam basketball tournament will begin today and run through Sunday and will be based out of Spiece Fieldhouse. Among the many colleges that will be in attendance to evaluate the high school-aged players (the tournament is open to both boys and girls in grades 3 through 11) will be Saint Francis, and Cougar assistant coach Luke Cummings is explicit in what he will be looking for.
“In AAU, especially when it's not an open period for the NCAA (Division I) teams, we want to find those kids that play at a high level, but with a high motor, as well,” Cummings said. “How do they play when some say 'no one is watching?' With the NCAA teams not there, are they still kids that compete and every game matters to them.”
NAIA programs such as Saint Francis aren't limited in their evaluation periods, but the NCAA Division I programs are. Cummings and Cougar head coach Chad LaCross use that to their advantage as much as possible in developing a deeper relationship with recruits.
“We don't have a whole lot of restrictions in terms of when we can evaluate kids or when we can communicate with kids and their families,” Cummings explained. “That's nice for us, but it's nice for the families, as well, because they can get a better idea of who we are.”
Who – or what, more specifically – Saint Francis is, according to Cummings, is a university where a student-athlete can get a great education and play high-level basketball, without having to go far away from home.
“The bad thing about Indiana is that one recruiting guru can say that a kid is a (NCAA Division I) player and there is going to be a Division school from out of state that is going to come in and offer him,” Cummings said. “You hope that the kid is someone that is going to take into consideration the whole picture versus just looking for a Division I school.
“What we try to get the kid and their family to understand is the whole package. What we can do for them academically, how they are going to be able to develop as a person over four years, and obviously, being able to compete for (NAIA) national championships when you come to Saint Francis.”
The Cougars will graduate four players in the spring of 2015, two of which are front court players (T.K. Fashawe and Austin Fox) and two wings (Josh Hogan and Spencer Comer). Cummings will be looking for the best available talent this weekend, but with seven returning players, as well as four very talented freshmen coming this fall, the Cougar coaches don't need a class of 2015 player to contribute immediately.
“In the class that we have coming in, we have kids that we felt all along were going to go to a higher level,” Cummings said. “But they saw what we had going on at Saint Francis and we were lucky to get them.”
Competition for playing time will be very stiff next season at Saint Francis. Here is a look at who the Cougars have battling for minutes:
Kyle Sovine - 6-9, junior
Alex Pritchett - 6-8, sophomore
T.K. Fashawe - 6-5, senior
Brad Hartman - 6-7, junior
Bryce Lienhoop - 6-6, freshman
Perry Poindexter - 6-7, freshman
Austin Fox - 6-3, senior
Josh Hogan - 6-3, senior
Spencer Comer - 6-3, senior
Brogan Gary - 6-2, sophomore
Kegan Comer - 6-3, sophomore
Troy Blair Jr. - 6-5, junior
Evan Henry - 6-2, freshman
Seth Small - 5-8, redshirt junior
Jordan Hahn - 5-11, junior