FORTVILLE — Michael Ertel had two goals to check off his summer to-do list while traveling the AAU basketball circuit with Indiana Elite the past couple of months.
First and foremost, he wanted to win. Secondly, he planned to outwork the competition from start to finish.
The 6-foot point guard from Mt. Vernon achieved both last month — and picked up a third along the way.
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Turning in a gritty performance during the Adidas Uprising in Las Vegas, Ertel scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed four rebounds to lead his Indiana Elite 2017 U16 team to a national championship with a 66-48 win against the Utah Prospects.
“I just tried to play harder than everyone else,” said Ertel, a junior this fall. “That’s what I really tried to do in Las Vegas and the whole summer.”
Ertel played alongside Marauders’ teammate Erick Shepherd on Indiana Elite 2017 and competed against some of the nation’s premier players with tournaments in Indianapolis, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago.
After an 0-3 trip at the Adidas Gauntlet Finale in Atlanta in early July, Ertel and Indiana Elite 2017 bounced back a few weeks later, finishing 8-0 in Las Vegas.
The team avenged previous tournament losses to Team Wall, New York Rens and the Utah Prospects while also defeating the Compton Magic, Michigan Mustangs and New Orleans Elite en route to its national title.
Shepherd matched Ertel’s intensity with a strong showing, nearly registering a double-double in the title game with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Ertel worked the perimeter from 3-point range and created opportunities with hustle defense, scoring 18 points before breaking out again in the finale.
As a result, he says, a few college recruiters took notice.
“I didn’t get any offers, but I gained a lot more interest from some schools,” he said.
Among those interested are Evansville, Cornell, UNC Greensboro and Davidson.
As a sophomore at Mt. Vernon, Ertel averaged 15.3 points per game, 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists. The year before, he contributed 5.5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. After this summer’s success, he hopes to see another spike in production and in his recruitment.
Recently, Daily Reporter sports editor Rich Torres caught up with Ertel to discuss his summer championship, playing with Shepherd and the Marauders’ expectations for 2015-16.
Q: How exciting was it for you and the team to win the U16 national championship in Las Vegas this summer?
It was huge for us. We worked really hard the whole season. We didn’t start all that well, we went 0-3 in Atlanta, but we really came together as a team there late. We started playing really good defense, and it felt really good once that final buzzer sounded and we won. It was pretty awesome.
Q: You’ve traveled quite a bit this offseason with stops in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Chicago and Dallas. How much does that experience and the competition help your game?
It’s helps a lot. Me and Erick are able to see the best of the best from all over the country, and that really helps us when we get back home, knowing what to work on. We need to get stronger. We need to become better shooters, better ball handlers. If you have a weakness in your game, it’s going to expose it when you’re playing that type of competition. I think it really helped me, and I know it helped Erick as well.
Q: What was it like to have a high school teammate with you on your travel team?
It was great. Me and Erick have really good chemistry out there, and we roomed together. I know where he likes to get the ball on the floor, and he knows where I like it on the floor, so it kind of works out well, especially when we play again this high school season.
Q: Does all this success in the summer get you focused for the upcoming high school season in a few months?
It definitely does. I’m always ready to go during the high school season. It gives us more confidence that we can do better things come regular season and playoff time. It should help us get closer to accomplishing all of the goals we have for this year.
Q: You had 16 points in the U16 national championship game against Utah. How did that performance come together for you?
I just tried to stay aggressive offensively and played as hard as I could defensively. When you do that, good things will happen, and that’s what I did. In that game, I was just hitting my shots and just kept shooting. My teammates were confident in me, so I kept on it and hit a couple. I felt really good out there.
Q: Indiana Elite won the U17 national title last year, how important was it for your U16 group to keep that tradition going?
It was really important. We had a coach that was actually a coach (Tim Weatherford) on the team that won last year when his son, Grant Weatherford (Purdue/Hamilton Heights), played. He told us what we needed to do to win and how we had to do all the little things right, like being disciplined and not staying up late. We did that, came out with a lot of energy and played well.
Q: How motivated are you and the Mt. Vernon starters to improve on last year. How bad do you want that sectional title?
We want it really bad. Last year, we had a lot of games on the table we could have won. This year, I want to control the game late and win those close, tough games, especially in the sectional. We need to come out with a desperate urge to win and not just wait. I thought last year we didn’t really have that. This year, we have to have it because this is the last year with all the guys together.