The month of September is mostly about high school football season. That is a point that few will argue. But that doesn’t mean basketball drops completely off the radar. Instead, September is a month where guys without a fall sport, mostly, improve their craft is seasonal leagues.
Team Focus, now into their fifth year, is getting in on that business with a new league at Turnstone that launched on September 8.
Casey Adams is the man at the forefront of Team Focus and has set out since day one for the organization to be different than normal club or travel teams. Adams has also set out to find his own ways to make Fort Wayne and the city’s basketball better any way he and his volunteers with Team Focus can.
Adams has been involved in youth basketball going on 19 years, coaching and running a variety of leagues. He has also spent time coaching on the high school level at Central Noble and in Coldwater, Michigan. While Team Focus finds success on the high school level with some of the area’s elite players, Adams and company have also focused on the younger generation in and out of their new Sunday league at Turnstone.
Not only will teams be playing on Sundays, but players involved in the Team Focus league will also have the chance to participate in skill building nights with Team Focus coaches.
“Being different, focusing on the details, highlighting all kids, finding their success on and off the court,” Adams said of the organization’s focus. “Our coaches do a lot of relationship building.”
An impressive part of Team Focus’ vision is that skill building outside of what has become the normal in travel leagues, basketball or otherwise. They dial in on having non-parent coaches, separating from the dynamic that can make youth sports controversial. They also look to have more practices than games each week, so there are adequate opportunities to improve players especially before they reach the high school level.
“We have taken a strong approach this year on getting higher level players but not forgetting players who are still in the development age, that has always been a passion of mine,” Adams said. “I feel like we write kids off early and don’t work with them enough. There is a time that kids start making choices on their own, but if we can at least carve the path to give them a solid look at it, that has always been my vision.”
The concept of offseason league play is not new to Team Focus, but moving the play into Fort Wayne serves multiple purposes. The first was to fit the demand of many families who wanted a league closer because of the many Team Focus relationships in the city. The second reason was to find involvement in the community, which came with Turnstone and also with raising money for DSANI, a local Down syndrome group.
“We want to be involved in the community. We like supporting Turnstone because obviously they do a lot of great things and the needs of kids they service,” Adams said.
While aiming to be Fort Wayne local, this Sunday Team Focus league has drawn in some top tier talent from just outside the city, including Central Noble sophomore Connor Essegian, who scored 32, 28 and 26 points in his three games on September 8 and Marion junior Jalen Blackmon, who had games of 33 and 50 points on opening day.
The Sunday league is broken up into three levels with 3-5 grade, 6-8 grade and high school competing together. Adams says they have aimed to keep the teams set at eight players to provide more playing time for each kid.
Other top single game performances on September 8 on the high school level included Marion’s JK Thomas with 27 points, South Side’s Treveon Jones with 26 points, South Side’s Austin Jordan with 20 points, Marion’s Rodney Gibson with 22 points, Homestead’s Ifeanyi Ezeakudo with 21 points and Marion’s Josh Balfour with 26 points and 30 points in separate games.
One of the best individual scoring days on opening weekend came in the Jr. Future Boys Division of 6-8 graders from the Central Noble team. The Cougars’ Jackson Andrews had games for 26, 24 and 18 points.
Team Focus has added an additional model as well each week by having an all-star game for each level. While the all-star games focused on offensive players in week one, they will pick players based on defensive prowess, sportsmanship and other attributes in the coming weeks. That also allows a variety of different players to be involved in an “all-star” atmosphere.
“It just gives us a variety of talent to be part of an all-star game to reinforce role play. I think that is the biggest challenge for kids today is to understand their role in a game so we have to reward those kids,” Adams said.
Overall, Team Focus hopes that their Turnstone league fills a demand in Fort Wayne of an attention based style of play. Adams said he isn’t looking for the league to get too big, just to be a different setting than other options in the area, not necessarily competition. It also allows a variety of players to compete with and against guys they wouldn’t normally be able to compete with. The high school level has players from Fremont, Heritage, Bishop Dwenger, Marion, Blackhawk Christian, Central Noble, Columbia City, South Side, Carroll, Homestead, Canterbury, DeKalb, Eastside, Blackford, Hillsdale Academy, Marshall [Mich.] and Coldwater [Mich.], among others.
Games run on Sundays starting at 1 p.m. and running through the last game starting at 6 p.m. Admission at Turnstone is $5, but children 18 and under are free.
“We just keep expanding and its good to blend kids from other schools and other communities. I like that atmosphere, I think it helps the kids see adversity and see different levels of talent,” Adams said.