Things tipped off last Sunday with another highly-touted basketball league in Fort Wayne. Team Focus returned to presenting a fall league with the launch of its new Next Gen Back to School League. The league brings games to Spiece Fieldhouse, long one of the best facilities for youth hoops in our area.
Spiece may have lost some of its luster in recent years, but it was good to see an active event like the Back to School League give the courts some heavier use outside of the summer months of travel ball season.
The league features boys games in two divisions: high school and middle school.
The Team Focus Next Gen Back to School League will run through October 2, but will also be back in coming months with Fall and Winter Next Gen leagues.
Here are some player takeaways from Week 1 of the event:
Bryce Parnin, Fremont
His length presented a real issue for much of his 2 p.m. game. He was getting second looks for his team as they were trying to find some comfort and had no match inside early. What helped is that he was able to run the floor well and had a nice early basket in transition based solely on the fact that he was willing to get out and fill his lane correctly.
Defensively, that length was on good display too. He was able to protect at the rim and also read passing lanes well, disrupting the offensive flow for the other teams in both games.
Ethan Bontrager, Fremont
To little surprise, Bontrager took control early in his first game, pacing the game well and showing that valuable senior leadership. A known commodity, Bontrager got to be a different player this week than he was in the last league I saw him play in. In the Next Gen leagues, he will get to be to his team what he will end up being at Fremont as a leader to take control and that’s a big positive. He was able to get to the rim well, something we’ve seen him improve on.
Bontrager’s spacing and passing was really nice. There was clearly a comfort in playing with high school teammates Conner Slee and Bryce Parnin. He knew where they would be on the court and several times capitalized on that knowledge and previous experience.
Brogan McNiece, Homestead
The big lefty started the first game with a three-pointer that immediately challenged perceptions of what kind of player he would be. Midway through the first half of that game, he pump faked a three and took the ball to the basket, hitting a turn-around jump hook over two players that looked nice and smooth.
McNiece was dominant against a lot of people inside, so it will be interesting through this league when he has to deal with more experienced posts like Isaac Schultz and Hunter Kline. But for the first week, he was aggressive inside and showed a good ability to rebound the ball.
Isaiah Gard, Central Noble
Admittedly, this was probably my favorite Isaiah Gard I have seen over the years. There was nothing soft about his game Sunday, he came to work and be aggressive on both ends of the floor. He fought around the rim as the best option for a big man that his team had, even though he’s not at all a natural big and doesn’t play there very much. You may not have known that if your only sampling of Gard was Sunday. He played tough and it was nice to see.
I also really liked Gard’s mind offensively because of the matchup problems he was able to create. His pick and pop plays were nice because teams were looking for him to roll to the basket and a lot of opposing bigs were trying to hedge that. Instead, Gard was popping out to the perimeter where he could hit or body smaller defenders to the basket. Those mismatches also presented a couple of nice midrange post-up and fadeaway options.
Brady Lehman, Eastside
There were a ton of things to like about Lehman on Sunday, but it is critical to me to start with something that stood out in the first game, because much of what he did otherwise is stuff we’ve become accustomed to. In the opening game, watching him work with the ball was interesting. Lehman showcased a really good change of speed, direction and hands mid-attack when moving towards the rim. It made him difficult to guard.
That other stuff we know of him was good too. He is a very aggressive defender that is even keel emotionally. Lehman just plays and plays hard, making opposing offensive players second guess their moves and making some of those guys a little too loose with the ball trying to avoid his physicality. That only worked out in Lehman’s favor.
Amar Rogers, Marion
He just took over the games at key moments. His vertical was solid, rising up for rebounds and on defense that really altered the 2 p.m. game down the stretch and helped his team pick up the win. His shot was pure and his ability to turn it up was nice.
This is a kid we don’t see in the OTH area much, but there was a lot to like out of this Class of 2025. He was able to be pretty high volume with his offense, something that was a good splash to see and he was arguably one of the best guys of the ones I didn’t know coming into Sunday. He is certainly one to watch the next three weeks and beyond.
Jamerion Fouce, Marion
He showcased some next-level athleticism, which would be just ok if his energy, effort and aggression didn’t match, but it certainly did. He was just plain tough and seemed to relish the idea of playing consistently tough defense along the way. That created instant offense for his team and himself, allowing him to throw down a vicious first-half dunk in his 3 p.m. game that rattled the rim on Spiece 5 about as much as I’ve ever seen it. He paced the game well, broke down his defenders, knew when to attack, when to use his space for a pretty smooth jumper and when to defer to teammates.
Tusi Jackson, Marion
He was probably the best true post I saw Sunday. He played within himself and didn’t try to extend just for the fun of it. He used his body well to seal, faked defenders with his entire body and didn’t fade away from contact. You don’t often see kids at this level that are just content and intelligent when playing as a true post, but he did it well and didn’t deviate from what was working. He used his body well, created position and spacing. That not only helped him on the post up, but he was ready and waiting for offensive rebounds and putbacks.
Cole Hayworth, Concordia Lutheran
There wasn’t much of a match for Hayworth and he kind of played like he knew it in his 3 p.m. game. On the break, shooting threes, playing above the rim, Hayworth was just having fun and his game thrived because of it.
He was an efficient and remarkably versatile scorer, combining drives to the rim with putbacks, floaters, dunks and a consistent jumper both off the dribble and off the catch. He is showing some refinement to his decision-making with the ball in his hands, and his size proved to be a big help no matter who he was matched up with on either end.
Parker Reed, Garrett
Reed is someone I wasn’t super familiar with before games took place on Sunday, but he caught my attention quickly. Reed was super consistent with how he played and that led to a lot of intrigue. He moves well without the ball and his passing was more than solid. Several times he threaded the needle very well as he contributed to his team.
Reed’s defense too was consistent. He never had a ‘wow’ moment per se on Sunday but he played incredibly competent and unbothered. The consistency and poise he displayed is not something you often see in these Sunday leagues. That effectiveness makes Reed one to watch.
Donnovin Betts, Marion
He was a versatile off-ball or on-ball threat through both of his games on Sunday. You name it and he was proficient in it from handles, shooting, speed and playmaking. He played like an excellent transition player based on speed and decision making and could be a high-level playmaker and very good defender. He defended opposing guards and smaller wings on the ball and in the limited situations I saw, could switch situationally against big wings too.
In short, he was just a super quick playmaker that was pesky on defense and knew how to get up and down the court with precision.
Isaac Schultz, Adams Central
He was a strong physical presence and established himself as another true big on Sunday. His defensive versatility and tenacity should merit attention for how he played against East Noble’s Hunter Kline in the 4 p.m. time slot. He looked to be an active and disruptive help defender and often reinforced the interior defense before closing out on a shooter when forced to scramble defensively.
Got to see Schultz get a rebound and go a couple of times as well, something that may not be what he should do often but could be in his wheelhouse. His work with the ball is improving and that showed well on Sunday.
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