Few people, in comparison to your traditional high school basketball, get into watching homeschool basketball in this city. But once former Fort Wayne Hawks coach Matt Lock got me out to a game last season, I became a believer in the fun, fundamental and clean basketball played with these teams.
That drew me back out to Spiece Fieldhouse on Friday to watch a much hyped Benton Bucks team out of Goshen battle the West Michigan Hornets in a Fort Wayne Guard Midwest Challenge game. The tournament, taking place this weekend, features some of the best boys and girls talent in the Midwest who play this non traditional, homeschool basketball. The Bucks and Hornets may likely even be the best two teams in the gold bracket, but faced off on opening night as the Bucks needed a conference game.
Three missions accomplished at once in a 52-51 win for the Bucks: conference win, tournament win and the advancement of the homeschool narrative: this is fun basketball. Both teams gave a maximum effort for every second of the game, pushing an interesting pace and playing a strong game of chess with their plays, their cuts and their passes.
As I said on Twitter earlier today, before the Bucks and homeschool hoops had my curiosity; now they have my attention.
In the game itself, the Bucks found themselves down early, trailing by 10 before a battling back on the strength of their defense, which created a lot of instant offense.
“It was crucial. We’ve had multiple games this year where we’ve had a slow start but we keep battling back. We never give up,” Benton’s Jake Lock said.
Caleb Wright’s three pointer tied the game at 21 after that deficit and the Bucks ended up going on a 15-0 run before the Hornets were able to hit some free throws in the closing seconds of the half to trail by just four at the break.
“We knew the shots would fall eventually; we hoped. We knew they were going to make a run because we expend a lot of energy, but the guys kept battling,” Benton coach David Wright said.
Benton’s defense was a lot for West Michigan to handle. Their near 3/4 court 2-2-1 zone was a unique look with the length and activity of Wright and Jo Nimtz forcing a lot of Hornet mistakes.
Early in the second half, Lock took over for Benton. Lock, who was my introduction to homeschool basketball a year ago with his dominant play with the Fort Wayne Hawks, nailed three triples in a constrained time frame and pushed the Benton lead to 11 just three minutes into they second half. It was a major turning point for Lock and Bucks in the second half after he struggled to score through contact at moments in the first half.
“It was just about getting some space from my defender. He was playing up on me and once I got loose, I wasn’t afraid to pull it,” Lock said.
West Michigan fought back though and made for a great closing set of scenes. Kaleb Keysor pushed the Buck lead to 51-49 with 1:31 to play after he drove the left baseline to complete a long possession with a lay in. After the Hornets tied the game back up, Wright drew a foul with 2.1 seconds left and hit his second foul shot to close the game out with a win.
The energy and enthusiasm on the court and in the stands for a game like this rivals almost any high school on a Friday night. One of the things that really stands out about watching homeschool basketball is how smooth and clean it can be. Sure, there are fouls, one helped decide this game. But, it is just a different feel with a more good natured and pure battle than you’ll see elsewhere.
“We’ve all been playing against each other for so long. We respect each other, it doesn’t get too chippy and it is a lot more competitive than people think. It’s just a really fun time,” Lock said.
I made the decision last season when I watched Lock, Keysor and their former team that I would me taking in more homeschool basketball. I am a basketball purist and I love the game from top to bottom. These athletes love the game too and play it right, play it hard and have a great time doing it. Some guys who have played in the NBA have been homeschooled and played basketball for teams not affiliated with schools, including Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons, who was homeschooled much of his life. The annual national tournament in Missouri draws in over 350 teams.
And Benton is a team who has been willing to play anyone to get better. They played an off the books scrimmage against Lakeland (the Bucks scored more points in that one) and actively tried to get other area high schools on their schedule. There are other state homeschool teams that play big schedules too; the Indianapolis Wildcats play games against Indianapolis Tindley, Gary 21st Century, Culver and Arsenal Tech. I love that mentality: just go play basketball; toss the ball up and see who is the better team that given night. The fight is a big part of the fun, it certainly was on Friday night.
“I think you have great athletes. There is a wide range just like there is in high school. Especially when you get to the better teams and the teams that have been together longer and city teams, like Indy and Chicago, some of those kids will play in college,” David Wright said. “We appreciate this. Being down in Fort Wayne is just great.”
The Midwest Challenge continues on Saturday at Spiece Fieldhouse. It is well worth the visit and worth taking a chance on watching the homeschool basketball players who are, despite any preconceived notion, quite exciting to watch. Outside of the Bucks, there are teams from Fort Wayne and Whitley County that participate locally. The game is, as Lock would put it, fun – so go ahead and take a chance on it yourself.
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