BENNETT'S MINUTES: Hoopsters at home in sweaty gym

Friday, July 14, 2017
North Putnam’s Elliot Gross goes up for a left-handed layup in Wednesday’s Top 100 showcase in Indianapolis.
Banner Graphic/JOEY BENNETT

INDIANAPOLIS — While many of their high school classmates were likely laying poolside or relaxing on a calm, quiet lake this week, four Putnam County basketball standouts spent five hours in a sweaty gym at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis.

Tori Combs of Cloverdale, Elliot Gross of North Putnam, Colin York of Greencastle and Allen Plunkett of South Putnam all participated in the Top 100 workout co-sponsored by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association and the Indiana High School Athletic Association.

The four athletes were among more than 100 hoopsters from all corners of the state who made their way to Indianapolis to learn new skills during drill work, gain knowledge on the college recruiting process and display their talents for the numerous coaches on hand.

Some players, such as York, took part in most of the day’s activities before departing a little early to play in a big AAU tournament being held at the same time in Indianapolis.

Granted, the event comes at the beginning of the final evaluation period when college coaches can watch prospective players in person, and many of the biggest names weren’t there.

New Albany’s Romeo Langford, the clear favorite for Mr. Basketball next spring, was just returning from an overseas trip in which he competed for the United States in the 19-and-under world tournament. Other top-rated players such as McCutcheon’s Robert Phinesee and Indianapolis Tindley’s Eric Hunter were also absent.

High-profile coaches John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams weren’t there watching, either. But that’s OK. These events aren’t really intended for the highest caliber players.

For those desiring college careers, a group which likely included a high percentage of people involved, the day was an opportunity to impress the many Division II, III, NAIA and junior college coaches who were there.

While there was threatening weather outside on both days of the event that cooled the outside temperatures a little bit, there was no such relief in the Ben Davis gym. If you despise the smell of sweat, this wasn’t the place for you — as dozens of teenagers clad in soaking-wet T-shirts and badly in need of showers did nothing to inspire new fragrances for cologne companies.

They played three lengthy games, spread in and around the drills and educational sessions, and by the end of the day most of them were visibly dragging themselves up and down the court.

And they loved every minute of it.

“It was a long day, but we had a great group of girls and it was a very unselfish team,” said Combs, the only Putnam County representative at Tuesday’s girls’ session. “To get that experience with different girls I’ve never played with before was very good. It’s hard to get used to playing with new people at first, but we played together well as it went along.”

Combs, the Banner Graphic “Player of the Year” last winter as a sophomore, is the tallest player on her Cloverdale team and normally is the recipient of passes from teammates down low.

On this day, with much bigger teammates, her role was reversed.

“I think I fed the ‘bigs’ well, and helped the team all-around,” she said. “I found out that I need to work on my ball-handling and dribbling. It felt good to be out there.”

Gross was outstanding in his first year at North Putnam last year, averaging 17.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 63 percent from the field.

He had played point guard in Pennsylvania, where he lived until moving to Indiana last summer, but found himself mainly in the post on a Cougar team lacking in height.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It’s great to be able to play in front of all the coaches, and be able to show my talents out here with so many good players. I’ve never played with such great players — it’s definitely pushing my limits.”

Gross regularly found himself smaller than the opposing post players last winter, and the disparity was sometimes even bigger on Wednesday.

He did what he always does to succeed, however.

“I try to be as physical as I can,” he said. “I try not to fade away from the basket, and use as many pump fakes as I can.”

Gross recognizes that his guard skills are very helpful as he navigates in the low post.

“It’s been very helpful to be versatile,” he said. “Wherever coach [Collin McHartt] needs me is where I will be. It’s helped me with finishing around the basket.”

Plunkett has had a strong summer, having earned a spot on the 20-player all-star team at the prestigious Blue Chip Camp in Kentucky last week.

He didn’t think he played well on Wednesday, though.

“I had an off day,” he said. “I know the college coaches are looking for more than just a scorer, so I try to take pride in my defense. I played all-around OK, I guess.”

Plunkett suffered a concussion during last football season that sidelined him for several games, and he has given up that sport to concentrate on hoops.

“It’s been all basketball this summer, and I’m just trying to keep my mind set on that,” he said.

Plunkett was one of the state’s leading freshman scorers two years ago, but saw his shooting percentages fall off last winter. He still led the Eagles in scoring with 14.9 points per game, but was not happy with his overall play.

“I definitely need to work on my shot,” he said. “Last year I was definitely not happy with my percentages or my stats. I’ve been working on it, so hopefully they improve.”

York had an ideal pair of days on Wednesday and Thursday, following up his busy first day with another pair of AAU games on Thursday in playing for Grand Park Premier.

“It was a great time,” he said of the Top 100. “It was an honor to be selected and to be able to go, and I wish I could have stayed all day. I like the stations we did, the games, the coaches and just everything about it.”

York’s AAU team went 7-0 to win a tournament earlier this summer, and he thinks he has had a good summer with all of his different activities.

“I think I played pretty well at the Top 100,” he said. “I think I have had a good summer. Our school team did well in June, better than I thought actually. We had some young guys step up and play well.”

York was thoroughly disappointed with his play in the Greencastle sectional defeat, and has used that bad experience for motivation.

“I hate to lose, and I didn’t play well at all that game,” he said. “I hated going out not playing my best.’

York has visited Wabash and Anderson, and considers those as his top choices at this point to continue his career after high school.

He also plans to visit Franklin.

“I really like the coaches at Anderson and Wabash,” he said. “We went up to Wabash for a team camp, and I really liked it there.”

York is pleased with his skill set, but knows he must improve his strength and quickness to succeed at the next level.

“Weighing about 135 pounds kind of limits me for the next level,” he said. “I’ve been working hard to get stronger, and to make my shot more consistent. I want to work off the dribble more and be a leader.”

Looking ahead

All four players are looking ahead to their upcoming school seasons as the leaders of their respective teams.

Combs is the only one who will be competing in a fall sport, as she is also one of the leading hitters for the Clover volleyball team.

Combs has been busy working on both sports this summer, and admits to not expecting to have had the success she had last year in averaging a double-double (17.2 points/12.5 rebounds) on the court.

“It’s been a long summer,” said Combs, whose team lost a heartbreaker in the sectional championship game. “I surprised myself last year, but it helps to have a great team. Everyone is really contributing to going back and winning the sectional this year.”

Combs also has high expectations for volleyball this fall.

“We have had some incoming freshmen to work hard and they’ll be able to contribute,” she said. “We need to work harder than other teams.”

Gross isn’t sure of his future plans, but if he decides to pursue college basketball there will be a place that can use his skills.

“I haven’t really thought much about it,” he said. “I would have to really look into it, and see where God wants me to go and what plans He has for me.

“It’s a big decision.”

Gross and classmate Treyton Smith are the only returning starters for the Cougars, but he is optimistic.

“I think we will have good leadership, and I think we’ll do well,” he said. “We may also have some seniors to come out who didn’t play last year.”

Gross notes one huge difference between basketball in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

“I think it’s the drive and the amount of work that people put into it,” he said. “That’s where I want to be — playing hard with everyone else.”

Plunkett was one of the most experienced players on a senior-less team last year.

The Eagles will have two seniors this year, and Plunkett — a junior — thinks the valuable experience the team gained in a six-win season will pay off this year.

“We are going to be a really good team,” he said. “It will be a whole lot different than the past few years. We are going to be a team that everybody thinks they are going to beat, but we’re going to beat a lot of teams this year.”

High school teams are able to play together during the month of June, and Plunkett thought that experience went well for his team.

“We had a really good month of June,” he said. “Last year we needed people with varsity experience, and now we have that.”

York was the leading scorer on last year’s Tiger Cub team, and will be the object of opposing defenses every night this winter. He’s optimistic about the season.

“We’re going to be fun to watch,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to the season.”

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