Basketball season never really truly ends. Case in point: here at the end of July, the balls have just stopped bouncing officially in games. And the final verdict of the summer: Total Package Elite has proven that their name means something.
I’ll call myself cliche, that is fine. The program known more commonly as TPE capped off the 2018-2019 basketball season with a Gym Rats Basketball Association National title and a record in the month of July of 21-1. And they did so by being an actual total package, scoring often at will, suffocating opposing offenses and limiting them to one shot most possessions and all around playing for the good of the program.
“I feel like we are bringing more energy as a team and putting our individual successes aside for the team. That is what is separating us right now,” TPE guard Weston Hamby, of Manchester High School, says.
From top to bottom, anyone who touches the court in games contributes for TPE. That was on full display in a gutty and confident run in the final weekend of July to earn the GRBA title. That run started just a day after they took home first in the Saint Francis Grassroots Shootout by winning three games in one day. Most would say something special is brewing for TPE. But it has been brewing for a long time.
The group has consisted of many of the same pieces since they were first put together at the end of their eighth grade years. Now, heading into their junior years of high school, TPE has sewn together title after title including three straight GRBA State titles. And there was the 21-1 month of July that capped off a 41-9 mark this summer, sometimes even playing up a year in age.
“July has been a real special month. I feel like the time off in June, the guys playing with their school teams, they came back ready to go and ready to play together,” TPE coach and founder Chase Sanders says. “We’ve been showing in practices early in the month that we are really good and translated down in Louisville, up and Grand Rapids and continuing this weekend.”
Chase Sanders can rest a little now.
One of the area’s top young coaching talents has added a national title to his resume as his built from-the-ground-up Total Package Elite program topped TNBA Ohio on July 28 for a GRBA crown. And it didn’t come easy.
Sanders was never allowed to put the adversity of a tough end to the high school season away. His Canterbury Cavaliers showed growth and fight, but their record didn’t reflect success. Then, just before the school year ended, Sanders lost his mother. And then he lost his job, removed as the Canterbury head boys basketball coach.
It wasn’t easy. But you also may not have ever seen a bounce back quite like what Sanders had in store. He immediately returned to the sidelines for TPE and stormed through a record pace season to lead them to a national title. TPE has been his baby and Sanders has consistently run the program in the right way as he leads players in their development on and off the court, something he has done since TPE launched in 2012.
“I did not know after the first group if I was even going to do it again. I had the opportunity to and its been a blessing. Its a blessing to be able to help other people. These guys, I feel like I have helped change some of their basketball paths and I’m excited for the future for them,” Sanders says.
You won’t find any equivocating here: Sanders is one of the best young coaching talents that Fort Wayne has seen in a long time and it shined through with TPE this summer. Yes, the players in his program grew their games immensely. But to not credit the coach would be wrong. Sanders did not just facilitate growth this summer, he turned his upside down world around and led by the greatest example.
LEGACY OF TPE
The success of this incarnation of TPE has been propelled by how successful Sanders’ first group was. Instead of rattling off multiple age groups all branded as TPE, the organization has been kept simple with one group at a time. He started TPE in 2012 and worked exclusively with one team until the players went off to college. Then, he added the 2021 group.
But that first group was special for what they did together with Sanders and what they did after they left TPE and their respective schools. Just this past season, TPE alums Mike Barnfield, Jack Ferguson and Brandon Durnell all found variants of success on the next level. Barnfield was named All-Conference at Glen Oaks Community College, Ferguson helped Division I Colgate to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament and Durnell, a Homestead grad, led Spring Arbor to NAIA National Title.
Durnell is still part of the TPE program, returning in 2018 and being a consistent presence for the organization this year through a strong summer.
“It is just a testament to the program. But him too wanting to come back in the midst of it all; he won a national championship, but he wants to come back to the program that helped him develop,” Sanders says.
Hamby agrees that Durnell’s involvement, next to Sanders and fellow TPE assistant Indy Thainon, has been critical in bridging any gaps as this incarnation of TPE is continuously built up.
“Brandon brings a lot. He keeps everything chill because he can relate to the coach and the players,” Hamby says.
TPE alums Durnell, Ferguson, Barnfield, Parker Manges, Keegan Fetters and Cody Holmes will all be on the hardwood somewhere this winter. They will all be leading the legacy that TPE built the first time around, something that the current group has built on in monstrous waves.
GRBA NATIONAL CHAMPS
It became more clear during the closing weekend of July that TPE was destined to finish their summer posing with the national title trophy for 16U after a 56-47 win over TNBA Ohio in the final game. By the way: the game was never as close as the final score may indicate.
19, 22 and 28 point wins in pool play showed a bigger hand for TPE. They weren’t squeaking by and they weren’t finding themselves in draining battles during a pool play segment that can sometimes be the most draining. TPE dominated, showcasing the bigger growth of their individual players.
Was any bigger than New Haven’s Thomas Latham? A glue guy for two seasons with the Bulldogs while having a bigger role in the summers, Latham has parlayed his summer into career defining moments. When you take all else away, Latham’s name has to be one of the hottest buzzwords going from AAU to November’s regular season start time. He was just that good throughout the GRBA with four 20-plus point games including 22 points in the title game. Latham held things together — not that they faltered a ton in the finals — by cleaning up on the glass and fighting to the rim to shift momentum any time the mood called for it.
And not a single person in the TPE lineup minded defaulting to each other in times of strength. Sanders played six guys in the title game: Hamby, Latham, Sam Strycker, Will Shank, Preston Barker and Cole Richmond. They all contributed in a way that just clicks together.
“We are like best friends off the court. It helps us learn how to hold people accountable like we are able to do on this team,” Hamby says about the camaraderie.
Shank opened the scoring with a triple, Hamby and Richmond chipped in scoring too while Latham, Strycker and Barker all used their size to exploit TNBA Ohio’s weaknesses as the main offensive options, often even scoring through fouls. But TPE has become so much more than an offensive team, although they can [as pointed out this weekend] score almost whenever they want. Their perimeter defense and shifts pushed TNBA Ohio uncomfortably into long possessions and their inside presence was strongly fundamental. It was rare that TNBA Ohio got more than a single shot off per possession because of the type of shots they were forced to take and TPE’s rebounding prowess.
“The biggest thing is these guys know that on offense we can get a quality shot. We can always find a match up, something that we can do,” Sanders says. “Defensively, even in this year itself, we’ve improved. We are playing on defense as a unit.”
It also came to TPE’s strength that all six players were able to get the ball and push it in transition, setting up so many things offensively because of their growing defense. When all else fails though, Hamby has impressed all summer by being a steady hand and a true point guard in an AAU world where that isn’t always respected or highlighted enough. His court vision as a scorer for Manchester instantly became a major asset for TPE.
“Wes has been a tremendous point guard for us. He had a really hard burden the first year, he had lot of scoring load. As guys are getting better, he is able to play as a true point guard,” Sanders says. “I think that is really helpful for him moving on to the college level. And he can still get buckets when we need them.”
While a 20 point lead in the national title game evaporated to nine by the final buzzer, the game was never close enough to feel in jeopardy. TPE played like such, smiling and just enjoying the game as calmly as you may ever see in an AAU tournament final.
Now TPE will rest too. They are headed their separate ways with some of them bound to meet up this winter. A lot of eyes of those watching however, they have to be at least peaking at next summer. Because if this is what TPE does now, imagine what kind of show they can put on when they get better. And trust me on this one, these are the type of players and coaches who will just keep getting better.
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