INDIANAPOLIS — With their AAU team, Indiana Faith U17, trailing by double-figures late in the first half at North Central High School, Miles Wayer and Michael Thompson zero in just past half court.
First, Wayer corners Anderson’s Thomas Wells, then Thompson swoops in, trapping the Indiana Elite Ice guard with nowhere to go.
Wayer snatches up the ball and fires an outlet pass to Bishop Chatard’s Sam Guymon in transition.
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Two points. Back on defense. Back at it, again.
“I’m just trying to stick to my game,” Wayer remarked after his team’s pool-play matchup at the 2015 Adidas Invitational on Thursday afternoon. “The main thing you can do is play hard every game.”
For Wayer and fellow Mt. Vernon senior-to-be Michael Thompson, there is no offseason, only more work to do. The same goes for the entire Mt. Vernon boys basketball starting five this summer.
A few hours later inside the same auxiliary gym in Indianapolis, the Marauders’ James McCloud, a 6-foot-4 forward, put in his time with the Indiana Elite Central U16 squad.
Nearly eight hours and 533 miles south, the tandem of incoming juniors Mike Ertel and Erick Shepherd suit up for Indiana Elite U16 and compete in the invite-only Adidas Uprising Gauntlet Finale in Atlanta, Georgia.
Both are premier multi-day events. All five players have to-do lists to check off despite the venue.
“We meet with each guy after our school season to set some goals for the upcoming year. Of course, my hope is that those goals are in mind for each of them as they play their AAU season,” Mt. Vernon head coach Travis Daugherty said. “The competition is so high in the AAU setting now that it really gives guys a great measuring stick for where their skill level stacks up. Once you see where you stack up, you can use that information to go back and work on your game.
“It’s a great opportunity for any of our guys regardless of where they’re playing.”
Shepherd and Ertel, like their teammates, are maximizing their busy summer schedules.
The duo participated in the IBCA/IHSAA Boys Top 100 Underclass Showcase on Wednesday at Ben Davis High School before catching a flight to continue their Adidas Gauntlet series tour, which included games in Indianapolis earlier in April.
McCloud’s team is scheduled to take part in the Best of the Midwest, an AAU showcase in Hamilton County and the Adidas Hoosier Shootout back in Indianapolis this month.
Thompson and Wayer have trekked around the Midwest with stops in Indianapolis, Chicago and a future date at the Kentucky Hoopfest in Louisville.
Along the way, each hopes to gain the interest of recruits and to hone their skills. When the AAU season comes to a close, the road circles back to Hancock County where they collectively share big expectations.
Playing together as a unit the past two years since Daugherty took over the program in 2013-14, the Marauders believe they can get back to 20-plus wins in Year 3.
Losing to Richmond in consecutive seasons in sectional, Mt. Vernon finished 13-9 last year and 9-14 the season prior. Of their nine losses in 2014-15, six were by seven points or less and four were by fewer than four points.
“Even in the Richmond game, we had them tied up at the start of the fourth quarter,” Wayer recalled. “That’s the one thing we’re all keeping in our head is that Richmond game. That’s not how we want to end the season next year.”
Experience is the key, said Daugherty, along with individual growth. Something his players are getting in doses competing in the summer ball circuits.
Having four of his players paired up on two different teams is an added bonus.
“It’s pretty unique when you can get two guys to play together in the summer,” Daugherty said. “It continues to build that chemistry and a lot of our returning guys have played together for a few years now. I think they’ve got to know one another on the court, and that comes from the time you’ve spent together. Being able to do that in an AAU setting beyond what we do together as a high school program, it selfishly is a big benefit to our program.”
Thompson and Wayer were able to team up this summer by happenstance.
In the past, Thompson, a former baseball player, committed his time to the diamond before focusing on basketball after his sophomore year. Taking up with Grassroots Indiana before jumping over to Indiana Elite, Thompson made the switch to Indiana Faith after Wayer’s older brother, Taylor, started the organization.
A former standout at Bishop Chatard and a walk-on guard at Indiana University, Taylor Wayer trained Thompson in the past, so the transition made sense.
Plus, it gave him the opportunity to get minutes on the court with Miles, who previously played for Indiana Elite the past three summers.
“It makes everything easier out there. I know what he’s going to do. I know when he’s going to shoot. I know when he’s going to dribble. I know when he’s going to pass,” Thompson said. “It makes everything I do easier.”
“It provides a real good comfort level for both of us,” Wayer added. “It just builds our chemistry more come winter.”
Their camaraderie — along with their gritty unselfishness — surfaced at the Adidas Invitational with tournament seeding on the line and several college recruiters in attendance.
In one sequence, Wayer, a 6-foot shooting guard running point for Indiana Faith, turned the ball over on an errant pass that gave the Ice an easy breakaway.
A few sequences later, a heads up pass from Wayer to teammate Christian Munson, a Class 3A state champion from Guerin Catholic, for a 3-point dagger made up for the miscue.
Thompson turned frustration into composure after he lost his man off a pick for an uncontested layup. On the next Ice possession, the 6-4 forward dug deep, drawing a charge under the basket.
At the other end of the floor, he utilized his length and stretched out, pulling in a one-handed offensive rebound to keep his team’s possession alive. Wayer buried a jumper a few seconds later, which was recognized with an impromptu high-five during a timeout.
“That’s what really started to separate us from the rest toward the end of the year,” Wayer said. “Coach was telling us at the end of the year that we had a lot of talent. Five players, right now, are playing in high-level AAU tournaments, but collectively, coming together, we can be even stronger. That’s what coach emphasized toward the end, and it really started to take root. We all know each other so well.”
But nothing is for certain, and the Marauders know it. Winning in March takes work in July, and their up to the task.
“In one sense, there’s no reason to think on paper that we shouldn’t be able to play with anyone on our schedule. But the reality is games aren’t won on paper,” Daugherty said. “We put ourselves in a promising position, and now we have to be willing to be able to accept that next challenge, which is taking what potential could be and turning that into a reality.”
Position: Point Guard
AAU Team: Indiana Elite
2014-15 H.S. Stats: 15.3 ppg/3.1 rpg/3.0 apg/52 FG percentage
AAU Team: Indiana Elite
2014-15 H.S. Stats: 13.3 ppg/6.1 rpg/1.8 apg/51 FG percentage
AAU Team: Indiana Elite
2014-15 H.S. Stats: 5.5 ppg/3.6 rpg/1.3 apg/37 FG percentage
Position: Shooting Guard
AAU Team: Indiana Faith
2014-15 H.S. Stats: 10.6 ppg/1.8 rpg/2.0 apg/46 FG percentage
AAU Team: Indiana Faith
2014-15 H.S. Stats: 9.5 ppg/5.7 rpg/3.2 apg/61 FG percentage