Area basketball players hone skills at AAU camps

Photo Provided by DistinXion AAU
Many local boys and girls basketball players are spending their summer months with AAU teams such as DistinXion — a non-profit organization based in Bloomington and led by former Washington High School and Notre Dame basketball star Luke Zeller. These teams travel all across the country to play against players from every region of the United States as young players continue to learn new styles of play and see just how they stack up against peers of their same age and talent levels.


It’s not uncommon for high school students to take summer vacations to places such as New York City and Los Angeles during their three-month break away from school. But for Heritage Hills sophomore basketball player Blake Sisley, these trips are a chance for him to showcase his basketball talents on a more nationwide scale.

Sisley and Southridge sophomore Colson Montgomery are both members of the EG10/Pocket City 15u AAU basketball team that travels across the country to play in large basketball tournaments against players from many different areas. The team has already played in the Run N Slam tourney in Fort Wayne and also traveled to St. Louis for the Arch Elite Showdown. Their next two weeks will be spent playing the Adidas Gauntlet Series finale in New York City and the Adidas Summer Championships in Los Angeles — an experience that Sisley can hardly wait for.

“It’s going to be a big stage with the best teams from all across the country so just being able to be there and compete against them is awesome,” Sisley said. “There’s going to be a lot of people watching you and it’s just going to be so fun and exciting.”

With the competition level consistently rising, many local boys and girls basketball players are spending their summer months playing with AAU travel basketball teams. Many of these teams travel all across the country to play in tournaments and also play across the state of Indiana in different competitions.

Area boys basketball players that are on AAU rosters include Jasper’s Jared Englert (Pocket City) and Jackson Kabrick (DistinXion), Southridge’s Jaden Hayes, Joe LaGrange, Garrett Voegerl, Matt Price, Kaden Neukam and Carter Whitehead (DistinXion), Forest Park’s Curt Hopf (Indiana Elite) and Simon Jacob (DistinXion) and Heritage Hills’ Murray Becher and Simon Scherry (Pocket City).

Area girls basketball players that are currently playing summer AAU ball are Jasper’s Kortney Ruhe, Kylee Vaal and Isabelle Hopf (DistinXion) as well as Claire Knies, Brooke Nottingham, Emma Shelton and Aspen Sermersheim, Southridge’s Myah Montgomery, Forest Park’s Faith Zazzetti, Northeast Dubois’ Madison Cave (Southwest Rebels) and Heritage Hills’ Rebekah Gordon (Indiana Elite Swish), Nevah Barnett (DistinXion), Kylee Appman (DSP Heat), Hadley Lytton and Avery Neff.

Photo Provided by Blake Sisley
Blake Sisley, center, is a member of the EG10/Pocket City AAU basketball team that participates in tournaments all over the country such as the Adidas Gauntlet Series finale in New York City and the Adidas Summer Championships in Los Angeles over the next two weeks.

While most high school basketball teams have the month of June to play in area camps as a team, the month of July is for players to spend with their AAU teams and continue to hone their skills as they prepare for the high school season and potentially even the next level of basketball. In fact, Heritage Hills boys basketball head coach Nate Hawkins says that if you have dreams of playing collegiate basketball then AAU is the place to start.

“I truly believe that if you’re a kid that has D1 or D2 college talent then you need to try and market yourself and get on one of these teams and it could possibly help you earn a scholarship down the road,” Hawkins said. “Going against that level of talent every weekend is only going to make their game continue to grow more and more.”

New Southridge boys basketball head coach Mark Rohrer agreed: “The biggest thing these AAU type of deals do is that they help the kids grow their individual game. With guys on our team like Jaden (Hayes) and Colson (Montgomery), whenever you’re playing at that high of a level it helps get you some college exposure.”

Hayes, a senior at Southridge, plays for the DistinXion AAU basketball program — a non-profit organization founded by the Zeller family (Luke, Tyler and Cody) to help integrate elite character and sports training to help build positive character in young athletes.

During his time with the program, Hayes has worked closely with Luke Zeller — a 2009 Notre Dame grad who played professional basketball as a power forward/center in the NBA Development League, overseas in Japan and Lithuania and even a brief NBA stint with the Phoenix Suns. Hayes says working with someone with the experience that Luke has is an incredible experience for him so young in his career.

“He’s a great coach and a very energetic guy, he’s just very good at taking players and coaching them up and teaching them the right way both on and off the court,” Hayes said. “That’s one of his big things — bettering guys on and off the court. Overall, just being able to learn from someone with that kind of experience is just awesome.”

Last year at the DistinXion camp, Hayes said being able to play with incoming new teammate Joe LaGrange early helped the two build chemistry as the season went on — LaGrange and Hayes also got to play with Garrett Voegerl and Matt Price early on at the camp as well.

Photo Provided by Jaden Hayes
Jaden Hayes, seen here throwing down a dunk in an AAU game last summer, is in his second season playing with the DistinXion AAU basketball team.

For Sisley, he’s gotten used to being a teammate with fellow Pocket Athletic Conference rival Colson Montgomery instead of playing against him when Heritage Hills and Southridge meet up during the regular season.

“It’s a fun experience because during the season you’re just worried about playing against each other but during the offseason it’s fun because you’re playing with him on the same team,” Sisley said.

Sisley and Hayes also both participated in Monday’s 16th annual IBCA/IHSAA Underclass Showcase at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. The event also featured several other local basketball players such as Jasper’s Jared Englert, Forest Park’s Curt Hopf and Heritage Hills’ Murray Becher and Simon Scherry.

Hayes said he felt honored to participate in the event and he felt that it helped him realize just where he stands among his peers in the state of Indiana on the basketball court.

“It’s called the Top 100 for a reason — you know all of the players up there are good and everyone can play,” Hayes said. “There’s no weak links or weak teams, it’s a great experience just seeing where you’re at and getting to play with guys you don’t normally play with and seeing different playing styles.”

At the end of the day, both Hayes and Sisley feel that they’re better players thanks to the extra time they’ve spent on the court in the offseason with their respective AAU teams and they look to continue to improve as the summer rolls on.

“AAU is competitive and it allows you to adapt because you play with people you don’t normally play with so naturally it will help your basketball IQ,” Hayes said. “You’re not going to get any worse playing AAU because you’re going to see stronger competition and learn new play styles.”

Sisley added, “It helps you grow because you get to play against some of the best kids in the country that are your age. Just being able to compete and play with new people on your team, it’s really fun and it’s helped make me a better basketball player.”

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