|Wed, Oct 01, 2014 02:21 PM
|Issue of September 24, 2014
July 30, 2014 | 10:34 AM
The NCAA basketball recruiting calendar is tight.
Live evaluation periods are limited, especially outside of the high school hoops slate of games. During the winter months, college coaches are not only recruiting high school talent for future teams, they also must ensure they are winning games on their own schedule.
South Central senior-to-be Zack Goodwin uses his left hand to go up-and-under to score a bucket in an AAU game playing for the Hoosier Hornets.
The 2013-14 NCAA recruiting calendar officially ends this week. The final summer evaluation period took place July 23 through 27, coincidently the concluding weekend of the AAU season.
Participation in the season-ending AAU National Championship and Gold Showcase prompted another opportunity for Corydon Central's Bronson Kessinger and South Central's Zack Goodwin, both beginning their senior year today (Wednesday), to show off their skills.
Fortunately for both, the event took place close to home. Playing at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kessinger participated in the Gold Showcase wearing the uniform of UA Grind/Grassroots Indiana while Goodwin suited up for the Hoosier Hornets in the Division I National Championship.
Kessinger has been a hot name in Southern Indiana since his freshman year. Playing his final AAU game next door to the famed Freedom Hall, the former home of the University of Louisville men's basketball program, brought the realization of his hoops career full circle.
"I was 7 years old and my dad took me to Freedom Hall to watch Louisville when they played in Conference USA," Kessinger said. "After that experience, I knew I wanted to play."
Since then, Kessinger works relentlessly on his game. He's a star player for the Panthers during the school season, then he's part of an elite group of hoopsters from throughout the state on the AAU circuit during the spring and summer.
Playing in the Gold Super Showcase division, Kessinger's team is made up of Brownsburg's K.J. Walton, Pendleton Heights' Sean McDermott and Zionsville's Derrick Smits (son of former Indiana Pacer Rik Smits), among others.
During pool play, the UA Grind went 2-1, defeating Meanstreets and Vanguard Elite. When tournament play started, UA Grind were knocked off by the Oklahoma Wizards on an afternoon when shots didn't fall.
"I figured we would have a game like this at some point. I just wish it wasn't now," Kessinger said after the loss Friday. "This whole July we've been on, so to end like that is crappy."
UA Grind coach Jim Reamer met with his pool of players after the loss then shared his recruitment of Kessinger to his AAU program. He noticed a kid from Corydon Central was listed at 6-foot-4 in the eighth grade. Catching his eye more was his position listed as "guard, forward, center."
Since then, Kessinger has stuck with UA Grind (name changed from Spiece Indy Heat this season when it became sponsored by Under Armour) and has traveled to play in Houston and Kansas City.
Goodwin is spending his second season with the Hoosier Hornets, coached by Curtis Chatham. Attending tournaments in Indiana, Ohio and Louisville, the Hornets play a full slate of games in the spring and summer.
The roster for the Hornets is more local, with players from big schools like New Albany (Jeff Byrne and Nick White) and Madison (Nick Macon) to smaller schools like South Central (Goodwin), Christian Academy (Nic Reed) and Trinity Lutheran (Toby Vanliew).
"You learn from the guys that are better than you or are from bigger communities," Goodwin said. "When you play against better talent, that helps me when I get home to teach the other guys what you've learned over the summer."
In Division I play, the Hornets went 1-2 in pool games, scoring the lone win in a rout over Lextown Ballerz. Goodwin competed for many boards in the victory along with a nifty left-handed up-and-under bucket against two defenders.
The Hornets eventually bowed out during the tournament Saturday morning.
"Our first tournament in Louisville we played well," Goodwin said of the AAU season. "We went to Cincinnati twice and fared well. We only won one tournament, but we are a small team. A lot of teams have a full bench, but we have three on our bench, so it's a lot of minutes."
Goodwin said the AAU season allows him to not only show off what he sees as his strengths, but also hone parts of his game that could improve.
"I can board against anybody I play against," the 6-4 Goodwin said. "On this team, we have so many scorers. I like to do the other things really well. I work hard to get steals, rebounds, look for assists, things like that."
As with any player who wants to get better, Goodwin is still in the gym, working on his shot.
"I've mostly been working on my jump shot," Goodwin said. "I feel I can get to the rim at our level against anybody, but my jumper has been lacking. I've been putting a lot of work in on my jumper, and it's coming along."
Kessinger, listed at 6-8, played each of his games at the Louisville event in front of multiple NCAA Division I coaches. His recruitment is a question that always comes up.
"I wanted to sign before school season, but I'm going to take one or two more unofficial (visits) then make a list of the top five schools and take all my official (visits) then I will go from there," Kessinger said. "It's going to be a really hard decision, but I have to do it."
Scholarship offers are on the table for Kessinger by Ball State, Bradley, Evansville, Illinois State, Indiana State, IPFW, Kennesaw State, Toledo, UNC Greensboro and Western Kentucky, many of which watched him play in Louisville. Some of the schools had multiple coaches watching. Other schools also have shown interest in Kessinger and could offer scholarships as well.
"It's still an open recruitment, but I'm going to wait a week or two after this tournament because you never know who is going to call at the end of July," Kessinger said.
Seeking an opportunity to play in college also drives Goodwin while playing AAU. The forward listed Central Missouri, University of Charleston (W.Va..), Norwich University (Vt.) and Holy Cross (Ind.) as schools he's drawn interest from.
"In August, I'm going to take some visits to Central Missouri and Charlestown University, both D2," Goodwin said. "Both are telling me what they have to offer and want me to come to camps. I feel like I can play at the D2 or D3 level."
The summer isn't exclusively for AAU. In June, Goodwin and Kessinger participated in practices and games with their respective school teams. Kessinger also spent the summer as a member of the "south six" with the Indiana Junior All-Stars.
"It was pretty good but less than expected," Goodwin said of the Rebels. "Nick (Wemes) hurt his knee, so we had to play without him. I ended up handling the ball a little bit. It may have been a blessing for us because it made me realize I can still handle the ball. Coming into my freshman year, I was a ball handler then I grew and I moved to the big man spot. It reminded me I can handle the ball and get to the rim with moves I have."
Corydon Central is coming off a season in which the Panthers were ranked as high as No. 3 in the Class 3A poll but were upset by Silver Creek in sectional play. Co-champs of the Mid-Southern Conference, the Panthers were known as "The Avengers" throughout the season.
What's on tap for 2014-15?
"Rise of the Avengers," Kessinger proclaimed.
"We played three events and won one game, but we never had a full team," Kessinger said. "All those games we played, we went against guys that are here today on the AAU circuit. It was a rough June, but I think we'll have a really good year. Last year, I said we would do decent and ended up No. 3 in the state. We have a really good chance to win sectional this year."
Time away from basketball is rare for the red-headed Kessinger.
When Corydon Central lost to Silver Creek in March, Kessinger said he was back in the gym the next day. It won't stop after the AAU season either.
"I did different workouts until AAU starts," he said. "Even then, when I'm not practicing or playing with them, I'm doing workouts. When I get home tomorrow, I'll probably go to the Y and play some pick-up games."
It's that hard work Kessinger said can benefit younger kids dreaming of playing college ball or being a leader for their high school team.
"I never thought I would be playing D1 basketball but it looks like it is going to happen," he said humbly. "Don't let anybody tell you you can't do anything. Go work hard for it."
Among the work Kessinger has focused on is bringing the ball up the floor.
"I've worked hard on penetration and getting 15-foot jump shots, 3-pointers," he said. "That's what I went into June with the school team working on and turned out pretty well. I may do that more with the school team and be a leader."
The end of the AAU season was emotional for Kessinger as well. Several members of UA Grind have played with him since the eighth grade.
"I remember going up to the first practice after school ball ended and looking around; I was the fifth tallest guy on the team," Kessinger said. "I thought to myself, 'What am I doing here?' It turned out to be pretty good."
The first event in eighth grade was a trip to Portland, Ore. Kessinger admitted he was shell-shocked at first, but, to get his name out there and play high-level competition, it was worth it.
"I'd do it all over again," he added.
This AAU season, UA Grind has made the tour with a league organized by Under Armour.
"Originally, we were supposed to be in the EYBL, which is the gold standard of AAU, but something happened and it fell through," Kessinger said. "I wasn't sure what would happen, then our coach said they got us in with Under Armour. I didn't know what to think of it, then we got to our first event in Kansas City and every coach you can think of was there. I met Isaiah Austin and Steph Curry because they were watching games. It was pretty neat."
Now, it's wait time for the next games, when the senior seasons begin for Goodwin and Kessinger in November.