KNIGHTSTOWN, Ind. – Romeo Langford was here. Didn’t play, but he was here and he spoke with me about “Hoosiers,” the movie, and Hoosiers, the college basketball team. That’s one possible story idea.
But there are so many other possible stories here. This is the Hoosiers Reunion All-Star Classic, a Friday night all-star game featuring some of the best high school players in Indiana, and it’s being played in the most Indiana basketball gym in the state – this tiny bandbox in Knightstown, where Knightstown High played from 1921-66.
This court, the literal wood on the floor, it’s been here since 1932. This gym, it’s where they filmed most of the basketball action from “Hoosiers.” This was Hickory’s home gym. So many possible stories.
Oh, and Robert Phinisee. He was here. Played, even. Phinisee, a graduating senior from McCutcheon, could be the starting point guard for IU this upcoming season – and if that’s the case, IU will be in good hands. He’s every bit of 6-1 and 175 pounds, and figures he’ll be closer to 180 by the start of practice. He’s a genetic wonder, so quick and now becoming so strong, armed with a decent jumper from 3-point range and an array of finishing moves near the rim, where he is ambidextrous.
That’s a story.
There’s more here than that, too. Former Purdue assistant Jack Owens, the new coach at Miami (Ohio), mined some diamonds from his former state. Mekhi Lairy of Evansville Bosse put on a show of outrageous physicality, soaring well above the rim as he tried to block a shot, smacking his hand high off the glass backboard. Didn’t block the shot. Might not sound like much, but Mekhi Lairy is about 5-9. He’s going to Miami, and so is Myja White, a 6-1 guard from Brebeuf. They combined for 40 points Friday night. Well done, Jack Owens.
Another story? Sure it is. They’re all stories, good ones. As I survey the rosters and the crowd and the game and just this beautiful old historic gym, about the only person I can say for certain I won’t be writing about is Warren Central’s Dean Tate.
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Nothing against Dean Tate, you understand, when I balked initially at writing about him. I’ve written about him before, is all. That was about three months ago when Warren Central defeated Carmel for the Class 4A title and Dean Tate was the best player on the court. He was the story that night.
This night? Romeo’s here, and he’s always the story. If I’m chasing clicks on the internet, he’s the topic. And he did say two interesting things on Friday night: One, as we sit before the game in the gym where they filmed “Hoosiers,” he tells me that he’s seen the movie “in bits and pieces,” which infuriates me not because it’s the Indiana basketball movie and he’s the IndyStar Indiana Mr. Basketball. No, I’m pettier than that. It infuriates me because it reminds me how young he is. Which means how old, um, well we’re not going to go there. But I did very politely tell Romeo that he’s a young punk who needs to stay off my lawn. Felt good. Plus he smiled, which felt better.
After the game, when I tell Romeo my position about the upcoming IU season, that “the sky’s the limit” after the spate of great news coming Archie Miller’s way these past five weeks – landing Romeo Langford, getting 6-10 sharpshooter Evan Fitzner as a graduate transfer from St. Mary’s, hanging onto All-Big Ten forward Juwan Morgan rather than losing him to the 2018 NBA Draft – Romeo agrees with me.
“I think the same thing,” he says about the sky, the limit, all that. “We have to come in this summer and get to work, but I think the same thing.”
Phinisee helps. I mean, he’s really, really going to help. At the least, he’s going to push talented and frustrating Devonte Green to be his best, least-erratic self. If Green is good and stable enough to beat out Phinisee, the Hoosiers have something special at point guard. And if Phinisee is coming off the bench, well, that’s special too.
None of this has to do with the kid from Warren Central. So let’s tell that story right now.
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The simple question I asked Dean Tate’s mom after the game: Where is Dean going to college?
“We don’t know,” she said, and Coy Tate was frustrated or exasperated or maybe just shocked at what she was about to say next. “He doesn’t have any (scholarship) offers!”
This was an all-star game, remember. Romeo Langford didn’t play, and neither did future IU teammate Damezi Anderson of South Bend Riley or Purdue signee Eric Hunter from Tindley, but there were 11 Division I signees on the floor, not to mention kids going to Wabash (Niah Williamson of New Castle), DePauw (Cole Jenkins of Carmel) and Marian (Luke Gohmann of Floyd Central).
And Dean Tate was the best player on the court.
Well, no, sorry. I’m getting emotional here, writing with my heart and not my head. The best player on the floor was Robert Phinisee, who scored 18 points and got to the rim whenever he wanted and looked to be a year or two – and a gear or two – ahead of everyone else.
But other than the future point guard of IU, emphasis mine, Dean Tate was the best player on the court. He scored 20 points, drilled five 3-pointers, scored one bucket on a tip-in where he was well above the rim, just an explosion to behold from this 5-8 point guard. Everything he does, he does it with a mixture of remarkable athletic ability and textbook fundamentals. And you can count the number of Division I scholarship offers he has on zero hands.
Did I mention his grades? Well, they’re outstanding. He was a 3.5 student at Warren Central, doing this despite playing varsity football and basketball all four years, and despite all those volunteer hours. He became the first person in Warren Central athletic history, and this school has been around for nearly 100 years, to make the All-MIC team in football and basketball.
And then he did it again as a senior.
Zero offers. None for football – he’s a stud receiver whose athletic ability, leadership and intellect caused the Warren Central coaching staff to move him to quarterback this past season – and none for basketball. And he led the basketball team to the state title.
“I’m short,” is how Dean Tate explains his lack of scholarships, and isn’t that just the most touching thing you’ve ever heard? “I’m 5-8, maybe I’m 5-7, and everything’s about first impressions. People come see me, and it doesn’t matter what I do (in the game). They see I’m short. But I have heart like I’m 6-4.”
Look, the world is not a perfect or even fair place. Far too many times, good people don’t get what they deserve. But what’s happening to Dean Tate – what’s not happening for Dean Tate – is so absurd, and so avoidable. He’s such a high-quality student and young man that he has been named a 21st Century Scholar by the state of Indiana, which means the state is investing in Dean Tate because he’s a sure thing. His tuition will be covered by state funds, if he chooses a public school. He just needs room and board and he’ll be good to go, the first member of his immediate family to attend college.
So many of the guys in this game Friday night, I’ll be tracking them in college. Plainfield’s 6-10 Gavin Bizeau is a fascinating stretch-four headed to Duquesne. Deandre Gholston is the latest MAC-bound pure scorer from Gary 21st Century. His former teammate at 21st Century, Eugene German, averaged 20.6 ppg this past season at Northern Illinois. Gholston, who had 25 points Friday night, will do something similar in a few years for Kent State. I’ll be tracking him, as well as De’Avion Washington (Terre Haute South) at Indiana State, Kevin Easley (Lawrence North) at Tennessee Chattanooga and Jarron Coleman (Cathedral) at Ball State.
And Dean Tate. I’ll be tracking Dean Tate. Just waiting on a school in this state to figure out what he is: A 5-8 guard, maybe 5-7, who has heart like he’s 6-4, and who wins at everything he does.