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April 13, 2006
Spiece Central coach Pat Mullin knows his team won't be able to sneak up on anybody as it jumps up this year to the toughest of all age groups, the 17 & under competition.
"They look at this summer as being a real challenge," said Mullin. "Last year they won seven tournaments. We have different uniforms on this year because we have a bullseye on our backs."
Some of the tournaments won by this team a year ago: Hoosier Shootout, Kentucky Hoopfest, Bob Gibbons Memorial Day, Best of Midwest, just to name a few.
Even at the end of the season when playing up in 17s in the Reebok Big Time, this team went to the final 16 before the eventual champ, the Spiece Indy Heat, eliminated them. It was actually Indy Heat's toughest game all week in that huge Las Vegas event up until the Big Time Championship game.
That game was a great test for his two highly recruited forwards, 6-foot-10 JaJuan Johnson from Indianapolis Franklin Central, and 6-foot-7 Matt Howard from Connersville.
"That was a good loss for us," said Mullin. "JaJuan and Matt both had to do double duty on Greg (Oden). I think they held him to like five points. The main thing as a coach was to watch those guys mature. I think in April of that year I don't know if they would have been able to do that. Would have come in more intimidated, but they grew and developed."
Tournament play for this team gets started tomorrow.
"We'll be (this weekend) at the Real Deal on the Hill in Arkansas," said Mullin. "We are looking into the Pittsburgh Jam Fest the following weekend, we'll be at the end of the month at the IndyBall.com. In May we will play at the adidas May Classic, the Indiana State AAU, the Run 'N Slam (Fort Wayne) and we'll head down to the Bob Gibbons tournament over Memorial Day at the end of the month."
Besides Johnson and Howard, one player getting some high major interest now on this team is 5-foot-11 point guard Zach Hahn. The senior-to-be just helped lead New Castle to the Class 3A title last month.
Mullin's comments on his players by their primary role on the court:
Zach Hahn (5'11, New Castle) - His confidence is up. He is one of the most hard working players we have on our team. He has become more of a competitor on the court than he was a year ago. He's quicker off the dribble and certainly better off of screens. Defensively, he is quick afoot, so he really has good positioning. A lot of people think of Zach as the prolific shooter out of New Castle and don't realize how quick he is defensively.
Ben Botts (5'11, Muncie Central) - I think he has like 26-27 points in the state championship game. Last year he was instant offense for us. One of the few players I have coached with a good mid-range shot. True leader, very vocal, very cerebral. His jump shot reminds me of the Humphries kid from Florida.
John Ashworth (6'4, Franklin Central) - more of a combo guard but I am fortunate enough to bring back three guys that can take on the role of a quarterback on the floor. Gets on these streaks where he really scores. He's strong enough to where he can take a game over.
Adrian Moss (Franklin) - a quick little guard in the Earl Boykins type mold. Good range and a very good ball handler. What he lacks in size he makes up in tenacity on defense, very quick hands. He will add a dimension that will help us when we play teams that are quick, athletic and get up the court.
Steve Hedrick (6'2, Lawrence Central) - a backup for us that is a very quick defender. Last year he matched up extremely for us across the country.
Ryan Sterling (6'3, Indianapolis Cathedral) - had a very good year at Cathedral, All-City. Has really worked hard on his defensive footwork. He has a terrific range from the outside.
Nate Blank (6'5, Terre Haute North) - the kind of player you would take if you knew you were going to be in an alley and in a fist fight. Very tough minded, real gritty. Has increased his outside range. Very strong.
Terron Bibbs (6'4, Lawrence North) - really good football player. Very agile, can take it to the bucket on the baseline. Penn State, Miami-Ohio and others have contacted him because he is a very good wide receiver.
Kyle Miller (6'3, Lawrence Central) - wouldn't surprise me if he followed his father's footsteps (LC head coach Mike Miller). He is a wing that has grown 3-4 inches in the last couple years.
JaJuan Johnson (6'10, Franklin Central) - he gets very low defensively and can go out and extend himself and match-up (w/smaller players). He can go to the four, three or five for us. Very athletic and getting better every day. Has really only experienced a lot of basketball since the end of his freshman year.
Matt Howard (6'7, Connersville) - very athletic. Can go lane to lane for a loose ball. Extends himself really well for a rebound. Very unselfish and has a very good 15-17 foot shot. Matt is very relentless at staying inside. When a ball goes up he is always thinking that ball is going to come off that rim to him.
Adnan Hodzic (6'7, North Central) - back in middle school his family moved over during the Bosnian War. Speaks five languages. Very physical, second leading scorer at North Central. He stays within his range with the high percentage shot. His presence inside will certainly help Matt and JaJuan. He has some pretty good range, we have noticed that in practices.
Joe Hughes (6'6, Indianapolis Cathedral) he won't be able to suit up till hopefully the end of May. Last year he had more minutes on the court per game than Matt or JaJuan. Does a lot of things that don't get in the scorebook. He's an undersized four but has really worked on his perimeter game. He broke his game in his last game at Cathedral, so he is going through some rehab now.
Given this good talent, it can't be a big surprise that Mullin was one of the first to hear from Kelvin Sampson's new staff in Bloomington. That's before you factor in that he used to be a manager at Ball State and has some long ties to former Ball State player and head coach Ray McCallum, one of Sampson's assistant now at Indiana.
"They said they are going to watch JaJuan (Johnson)," said Mullin. "They really didn't know a lot yet about the Indiana kids. I think I was one of the first individuals that Ray (McCallum) talked to. They want the best players they can get. They may be Indiana kids, they may not."
Despite his skinny frame, Johnson is very much a wanted prospect.
"I don't know too many schools that aren't recruiting JaJuan right now," said Mullin. "All the mid-majors as well as Purdue, Xavier and really name the gamut on the high majors in the midwest."
Other Spiece Central players getting high major looks include Howard and Hahn.
"Matt Howard is getting a lot of intention, a lot of the high majors are watching him through this summer," said Mullin. "Zach's recruiting has kind of been across the board. In really no order, Butler, Ball State, Miami-Ohio, some of the Big East and Big Ten schools are now calling. A lot of the bigger schools are looking forward to watching him this summer."