INDIANAPOLIS — The Eric Gordon Central Stars 15-and-under squad will play in bigger tournaments this July, most notably the Adidas Super 64 at the end of the month in Las Vegas. They will play in front of more college coaches and they will see better competition.
But to the Indianapolis-based travel squad, the Adidas Invitational is still their home tournament, even though it’s hosted by the Indiana Elite program. It is the largest of the spring/summer travel tournaments in the state of Indiana, and all of the programs in the state take special pride in winning it.
So it meant a lot for the All-Stars to claim the 15-and-under platinum bracket title on Sunday with a 58-52 win over the Colorado Hawks in the title game. They were the only Indiana-based squad to win a title in the top bracket of an age group as Louisville Magic won the 16-and-under platinum bracket and Florida Elite won the 17-and-under platinum bracket.
“It’s a big win,” coach Pat Mullin said. “It’s just a big win from a standpoint of yeah, we talked to the guys before this game, ‘We’re playing in a national tournament, but we’re also playing for the home state of Indiana.’ That was important, plus we’re in Indianapolis where most of our kids are from and around. That was important to us.”
It was also important that they won it with depth and balance.
Eron Gordon, the younger brother of New Orleans Hornets guard Eric Gordon, the team’s namesake, is obviously the squad’s headliner. Though he’s just about to enter ninth grade at North Central where the tournament was held, he’s playing up a year in summer travel ball and already has scholarship offers from Indiana and Purdue despite not having a high school varsity game on his resume. The Central Stars only got eight points on him in Sunday’s final because the Hawks made it difficult for him to drive by packing the lane with a 2-3 zone. However, they got contributions from several other areas to hold the Hawks off.
They were especially sharp defensively, running a 2-3 zone of their own that kept Hawks star guard Austin Conway from running wild and big man De’Ron Davis from dominating the paint. Conway scored 18 points and Davis had 13, but they had to work for those and the All-Stars caused several turnovers that went for easy buckets on the other end. Point guard Sean McGee, a rising sophomore at Fort Wayne Northside, was especially effective in the front of the zone and helped keep Conway from getting started.
“We were able to grab some of their (passes for) turnovers,” Mullin said. “I thought Sean McGee really adjusted. He had a really nice guard there (in Conway.) He kept him in front. He got beat a couple of times, but he also got a few key steals.”
Said forward Ryan Welage: “Coach always preaches team defense and we were helping. They had a great player (in De’Ron Davis). He was just scoring early, but we started to help and pinch down and that really shut their offense down.”
And even though Gordon and Brennan Gillis, a 6-foot-6 forward from Ben Davis, struggled to operate in a clogged paint, the Central Stars got several key contributions from elsewhere. Dwyane Gibson, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard from Park Tudor, led the scoring with 17 points including three crucial 3-pointers. Welage — who is being recruited by Indiana and has visited Bloomington — had another in a series of strong outings during the tournament. The 6-foot-7 forward from Greensberg scored 13 points.
“He’s been a really, really great surprise in April and May,” Mullin said. “He’s been very good for us all year. It’s a blessing to have him. He’s an old school post player who’s always around the ball.”
It was an encouraging start to July for the squad, which still has two more tournaments this month, not to mention potentially two more years together. They fell in the finals of the Adidas May Classic two months ago to the Indiana Elite 15-and-under squad, but showed throughout the tournament that they’re rounding into shape.
“Anybody can step up on this team,” Mullin said. “Eron’s obviously a very talented player, but the other guys, we felt very good about what we had out there. … It’s a whole new group for me, it’s a new cycle, but these guys are really coming together. … I just like the fact that they’re getting better every week and each player’s getting better. They play as a team.”
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