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SHOOTER: 9 player takeaways from St. Francis’ Grassroots Challenge

Northrop's Isaac Anderson plays point guard during Wednesday's game against Indiana Elite Force at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
During Wednesday's game against Indiana Elite Force at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge, Fremont's Tanner Behnfeld shoots a free throw. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Carroll's Richie Gross defends during Wednesday's game against Tipping Point at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
New Haven junior to be Donovynn Sisson-Lewis dribbles during Wednesday's game against FOH 2020 at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Northrop's Qualen Pettus scores during Wednesday's game against FOH 2020 at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Warsaw's Nolan Groninger controls the ball during Wednesday's game against Indy Heat Red at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
David Ejah of Carroll defend's Manchester's David Casper during Wednesday's game at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Blackhawk Christian's Frankie Davidson goes up for a shot at the basket during Wednesday's game against Club1 Indiana North at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Churubusco's Jackson Paul brings the ball up the court during Wednesday's game against Hidden Gems at the Saint Francis Grassroots Challenge. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)

Just because it’s the end of the summer, that doesn’t mean you can’t find good basketball. Even on a Wednesday.

So Shooter hopped himself out to the University of Saint Francis, taking a break from the summertime poolside adventures and stiff-arming The Pigskin Prophet in the process. The one day USF Grassroots Challenge was a simple, fun way to get some hoops in as the July season wraps up with big events during the weekend ahead.

Shooter got to take in a lot of games during the course of the event and thought he would share his top takeaways from the event with players that caught his attention. Some of these kids I knew before, some were fresh to me. And while this is in no way to be considered a list of the best players of the day, these kids did something to draw this high school hoops loving frog’s attention.

ISAAC ANDERSON, TEAM FOCUS 2019 AND NORTHROP HS

Anderson showed a grit that was missing at times during his junior campaign. He always showed quality fundamentals and poise but he lacked toughness and leadership, two things he had in droves Wednesday. In a loss to Team Indiana, Anderson ran the point with precision, mapping out paths for his teammates and himself to be successful.

Northrop will have talent to spread out this winter but without a leader in the mold of 2017 graduate Richard Robertson or 2016’s Jagger Surface, they could still end up a middling team in a curious Summit Athletic Conference race. If Anderson continues to put out on court leadership and find his voice with the Bruins, the missing ingredient to contend could be someone they’ve had all along.

TANNER BEHNFELD, TEAM FOCUS 2019 AND FREMONT HS

Behnfeld didn’t strike Shooter’s fancy as much as some others, but I did take a liking to his smoothness and how fluid his game was at times. Following your own shot is one of those Shooter favorites and I watched him do it on multiple occasions when his corner three wasn’t falling. Those hustle plays resulted in a couple of easy opportunities for him at the basket.

His shot itself is fundamentally clean. He takes his time getting set and his release point is great. Once he finds consistency, he could be a big help to a Fremont team that will look for footing in a NECC race that could be pretty open outside of the first two or so spots.

RICHIE GROSS, TEAM FOCUS 2020 AND CARROLL HS

Court vision can be taught, but it’s so much prettier when it’s natural. He kept his head on a swivel at all times and was able to read the defense appropriately. Carroll has a lot of talent back, but they also have many holes to fill and those positions were probably question marks when last season ended. Gross answers one of those questions for me.

Defensively, he guards at the hip and never takes his eyes off his opponent’s point of motion. He may have guarded as well as any player in the 2020 bracket in a game against Tipping Point, always staying between his man and the basket.

DONOVYNN SISSON-LEWIS, SPIECE INDY HEAT RED 2020 AND NEW HAVEN HS

To take him for granted defensively is a liability. He has a fantastic jump shot that helped propel his team to a 20 point win early in the day against FOH 2020. There were nine seniors making up the Bulldogs lineup last year and Sisson-Lewis is going to see his time rise significantly this year.

On Wednesday, he used the fact that he is generally unassuming to his advantage. Anyone who has seen AAU basketball up close knows that it is more of a sprint than marathon. So a player like Sisson-Lewis can fade into the background easily because he does not play as brash as many others. Once he was able to do that Wednesday, he found his shot at a consistent pace. I also liked that he was able to step up as a leader on his team verbally at times.

QUALEN PETTUS, SPIECE INDY HEAT RED 2020 AND NORTHROP

Hey, have you heard the talk of the summer? One of the guys generating the most buzz on the circuit locally has been Pettus. Heading into his junior season with the Bruins, he has slimmed down and put on some muscle and looks like more a physical threat before you even put the ball in his hand.

Once the ball is in his hand: lookout! Pettus, hands down, was the player who impressed Shooter the most on Wednesday with his play. The kid is tough as nails and Shooter loves every facet I saw in his game on Wednesday. There was some skepticism before the day just because of the hype Pettus has had this summer. Could it really be true? He was good last season; could he really be that much better? Yes. Double yes and finally, triple yes. Shooter absolutely loved the motor that he displayed at Saint Francis.

Get to the basket? Check. Shoot the ball well? Check. Defend tough? Check. If you don’t get the point yet, Pettus is really starting to check all of the boxes. Do we check off that one that makes Northrop a legit contender this winter?

NOLAN GRONINGER, CLUB1 INDIANA NORTH 2019 AND WARSAW

So Shooter has heard his colleagues say that there is a lack of true point guards in the area. And I also know that we don’t get to take a trip to “Lake City” very often so let’s forgive them now for their transgressions.

I will admit that I was skeptical of Club1 Indiana North’s chances in their game against Indy Heat Red at the warm-ups, but the team deserved more respect and a large part of that goes to the tenacity of Groninger as their point guard. Whether it was taking a charge from Carroll’s Dan McKeeman or taking Blackhawk Christian’s Frankie Davidson off the dribble, Groninger did not seem to care one iota who or what he was up against. Not only is this kid a true point guard, but he is a good one. I cannot imagine that we will see a point guard as tenacious in the Northern Lakes Conference as Groninger.

DAVID EJAH, SPIECE INDY HEAT RED 2019 AND CARROLL HS

My buddy David Ejah may not have played his perfect, best games on Wednesday. But, he is a real problem. On this loaded Indy Heat Red team, he doesn’t have to be a primetime scorer but make no mistake that Ejah’s presence was felt each and every trip down the court on both sides of the ball.

As he continues to get more confident in his game, which he certainly was in the win over Club1 Indiana North, teams are going to have an issue containing his pure and still somewhat raw athleticism. He made some great plays offensively, the best of which was a strong reverse layup after a couple of miscues offensively. Too many players of Ejah’s age will make those miscues and fold behind the weight of their coach glaring at them or their own expectations. So for Ejah to stay zoned in and just play his game makes him tougher than he has been in the past.

FRANKIE DAVIDSON, SPIECE INDY HEAT RED 2019 AND BLACKHAWK CHRISTIAN

The best defense of the day came from Frankie Davidson. Don’t @ me. Don’t e-mail me. Hands down, Davidson’s role as a defender shows his versatility and ability to chameleon his game to what his team needs. I have always loved Davidson’s ability to bear down straight faced and just play basketball. What impressed Shooter most on Wednesday was Davidson’s interior defense, challenging every drive from an opposing player that he could at the rim. A pair of strong blocks of Warsaw’s 6-foot-7 Tyler Metzinger proved that Davidson is dangerous anywhere on the court, even if he is traditionally more a wing player.

And don’t tell Frankie, but I even saw him smile once towards the end of the win over Indiana North. Talk about something that caught Shooter off guard.

JACKSON PAUL, SPIECE INDY HEAT RED 2021 AND CHURUBUSCO HS

Sibling rivalry is a real thing. But Jackson Paul is Jalen Paul. And that is about the most flattering thing that I could say about the Eagle sophomore-to-be. With dad and grandpa on the bench, Paul showed so many flashes of his older brother on Wednesday with how he gets up and down the court.

Paul takes chances and that is what could propel Churubusco to the top of the NECC. Most of the time, you cringe if your point guard makes an unfounded and errant no look pass that sails out of bounds. But when I watched Paul do just that in the first half of the game against Hidden Gems Platinum, I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t think about it because I knew he would take responsibility for it and come back with 3-to-5 quality, important plays for his team to make up for it.

So at the end of the day, I love Paul’s willingness to take risks. The reward will be great.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of News-Sentinel.com.

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