Combine bringing best of Louisiana together

Team Sportsplex of Baton Rouge will host the first annual Combine in the Capital Saturday afternoon. TSD's Ben Love caught up with the creators of the event to go behind the scenes with the guys who are bringing the state's best together ... and helping put them on the map.

This Saturday afternoon, while many eyeballs are fixed on a certain area football team playing a big game between the hedges, a basketball movement will be underway in Baton Rouge.

You won't see it or hear it as it's happening, but the aftershock will reverberate for years in the Red Stick and beyond, spawning a positive ripple effect of sorts in the world of Louisiana prep basketball.

The event is the first annual Combine in the Capital, which will be held at Team Sportsplex, home of Nike Team Louisiana (also known as the "Red Storm") of the EYBL. As Jonathan Pixley, head coach and director of the Red Storm, and Bryan Denison, the program's assistant director and director of recruiting, told TSD, a lot of good can come from getting all the best the state has to offer in one gym at one time.

"We brainstormed some ideas to create more public awareness of us having the Nike contract and the program and where we're trying to head with it," Pixley said of the combine's origin. "We felt like offering an opportunity for kids to come in and go through an actual combine, with a measurement system like the NBA does, would be attractive because it hasn't been done that we're aware of around this area.

"Also having the kids from every class getting to see each other all under one roof would be cool as well. They'd get to play against one another and just kind of see where they measure up, literally. To be able to make that information public to college coaches, as long as each individual wants that to happen and signs off on that, I think that's another part of the idea behind it."

Players attending, most of whom will be high-school aged, will go through testing and measurements from 1:30 to 3:15 p.m. before participating in games against one another until 6:30 p.m.

"We've invited the top 30 in each graduating class from Louisiana and a few select kids from the 2018 class, which are eighth-graders right now, as well as some of the top-tier talent from Mississippi," explained Denison. "We're going to run them through a measurement data phase at the combine. It's going to directly mirror the NBA Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago. We will compile all those numbers and figures, put them into spreadsheets, and distribute that as well as contact information to 100 to 150 D-I, D-II, JuCo and NAIA coaches throughout the United States, and to any other coaches upon request.

"So what I really think it does is put some of these younger kids on the coaches' radar with at least some information, so when the recruiting period does start, when these coaches can reach out to these kids, they'll have a great list to start with."

Combine in the Capital will play host to college coaches from several levels, but, as Denison explained, not from the highest level.

"There will plenty of college coaches there, but there will not be any Division I coaches there because it's not at NCAA Live Period," continued Denison. "They're not permitted to attend. But we've got confirmation from a lot of Division II, Division III, NAIA and a lot of JuCo coaches who are interested in attending."

Pixley conceded that in subsequent years the event may be timed differently to make that extra accommodation. "I think in the future we may try to place this thing in a live area where the (Division I) coaches can come out and watch and what not."

While the combine will greatly improve the collection and flow of information to coaches at the next level, an awareness that in turn helps the profile of in-state basketball players and programs, there's no doubt this event also serves as a recruiting tool for the Red Storm.

All those in attendance will not only get the Team Sportsplex experience, they'll also feel the collective energy of a room chock-full of the state's most elite. That's something that is rarer than you might think in the recent past.

"The best players in the state of Louisiana have not played together in the summer. They've been scattered to different teams," Denison stated in a matter-of-fact way. "The Nike program used to be located in Shreveport, which caused issues with trying to get the best New Orleans players. But we're here now, relatively centrally located as far as the state goes in Baton Rouge, and we've got the resources, the IQ, the man power and enough soldiers in our little basketball Army to kind of recruit kids and contact kids who are very talented and capable of playing with us from Texas, Mississippi and New Orleans up to the north (Louisiana). Our region is expanding a little each day."

And with the addition of the combine, the Red Storm's footprint might spread a little farther.

"We'll still have a tryout obviously, but it gives our Nike program a look at some of the top players in the entire state and even some east Texas kids under one roof, playing against each other," said Denison. "It'll be great to bring the state together."

A similar vision is shared by Pixley, who is also the head men's basketball coach at Dunham High School.

"I think the kids who in the past maybe they went to Texas to play or Mississippi to play or wherever, maybe now they can look around and go ‘Wait a minute, if all of us stuck together and played on one team, we could go compete at the national level very easily,'" Pixley said. "It proves more to the kids than anything else that there certainly is enough talent here to compete and there is also enough talent for major Division I schools to start making their way down here recruiting."

As the cycle begins to move faster, and local kids have more events like the combine to showcase their skills and get noticed by coaches on the next level, the hope is that basketball will grow from the ground up on the bayou.

"I doubt it's ever going to draw even (with football) in the same way that football never draws even in Kentucky or Indiana," Denison admitted. "But it's our passion, and I think our program is becoming kind of a shining light to try to maximize the exposure for the sport of basketball, especially high school basketball, in Louisiana."

*TSD subscribers can view a list of confirmed attendees for the combine by clicking on the link below.

Expected Attendees: Combine at the Capital

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