Spiece Looks To Be A Force

If you follow high school basketball recruiting, chances are you've heard of the Spiece Indy Heat, an AAU team which this year featured the likes of Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook. Now the Spiece name will be associated with an Ohio team -- the Spiece Ohio Force -- and the future of the team looks very bright. Kyle Lamb has more on the team and the players who will be part of it.

When you walk into the front lobby of the Spiece Field house in Ft. Wayne, Ind., you're immediately taken back at all the autographed jerseys, photos of some of Indiana's most successful basketball teams and other Hoosier memorabilia.

Meet Tom Spiece. He's a successful entrepreneur from Wabash, Ind. and a large part of Reebok's Grass Roots basketball. He founded the luxurious field house in the early 1990's along with another area businessman, Bill Hensley.

The Spiece Gym Rats Basketball program has led to some of the biggest tournaments in the country including the Spiece Run N' Slam and the USSSA Nationals. It also sponors some of the top teams in AAU basketball, including last year's Spiece Indy Heat which sent Daequan Cook, Michael Conley and 7-1 USA Today National Player of the Year Greg Oden all to Ohio State.

Cook a product of Dayton Dunbar High School is part of a renaissance of sorts in Ohio for the hardwood. The talent is rich and deep all the way through the incoming freshmen for this year's high school ranks.

Take one look at the 2009 recruiting class a group of sophomores-to-be when school returns in August, and without question a few players will catch your eye from the Spiece Ohio Force.

Meet Greg Brown. He's the coach and founder of this AAU team.

He grouped a talented core of players, including his son Zach, nearly five years ago when they were just in the fourth grade. Brown is also from Wabash and has known Spiece and Hensley quite well.

This 15-under team, which won six tournaments last summer and won the King James Shooting Stars Classic 15-under division this April, was originally formed as an independent team.

"I didn't really want a sponsor because I would rather avoid the shoe companies," Brown says. "I didn't want to limit going to this tournament or that tournament because of shoe affiliation."

But Spiece, the Wabash native, approached Brown about joining the Gym Rats program.

The successful Reebok sponsorship gave Brown a chance to do things for his players he otherwise could not have. Some of the families of his players are not financially prosperous enough to afford the expensive travel associated with AAU tournaments and camps.

The sponsorship and flexibility provided by Spiece has allowed for Brown to do many more things for his players.

"It's worked out quite well," Brown adds. "For instance, this year at the Boo Williams Invitational we were the only Reebok team there."

Although Brown doesn't believe his team is necessarily the biggest, the strongest, most athletic or most talented, he says they are a close-knit team that plays good team basketball.

The disciplined but aggressive style of play leaves opposing coaches and college coaches alike impressed and the Ohio Force usually victorious.

"(Ohio State assistant coach) John Groce and Thad Matta saw us up in Akron and Matta joked that he should find me a spot on the staff with all the sets we run," joked Brown. "We're not good enough to where we can take a game off, but we beat teams because we pass the basketball."

But they aren't without talent.

The No. 1 name often on the list of players to watch in Ohio for 2009 is Danny McElroy of Cincinnati La Salle. The 6-6 freshman forward started this past season for La Salle. He averaged just over eight points and five rebounds a game this past season.

McElroy projects as an undersized power forward but because of his athleticism and ability to rebound could still see a lot of interest from high major programs.

"He's receiving plenty of interest from Xavier, UC and teams like that," said Brown. "The thing about Danny is that he can really get up high. He can jump out of the gym and we need to get him to really rebound and be a workhorse inside because I don't think his shot is good enough where he can be a three (at the next level)."

While McElroy gets the accolades, his younger teammate from Middletown might have the higher ceiling.

Bill Edwards is a 6-5 forward with a pretty good bloodline. His father, Bill Sr., is the all-time scoring leader at Wright State University and had a taste of the NBA.

Edwards is nearly a year younger than McElroy and is still growing.

"I think Bill probably has potentially the best future of the group," Brown says. "Although I think right now Danny is probably the top kid in that class in the state, a year from now that could be Bill."

Also of recognition is Zach, who Brown believes could also develop into a nice player.

The younger Brown is a 6-2 guard from Mason. He's already received some interest from Division I programs.

"Zach is such a good shooter that I think he can make it to the mid-major or major level," added his father. "The thing with him is that he's going to get stronger and have to continue to work on his ball handling skills."

All three players were in San Diego this past week participating in the Adidas Phenom Camp.

The camp included some of the top 15-year olds in the entire country, including 6-9 Stephan Van Treese, a forward from Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis. He played on the junior varsity team and had to practice against Oden every day.

"From what I've seen, Van Treese is the best player out here in the country in this age group," Brown said. "I understand Ohio State has offered him and so has Indiana. That's a very good offer for Ohio State."

Although Brown and the Spiece Ohio Force don't have any players of Oden's caliber running around the program just yet, he is excited about the future.

They intend to participate in the Hoosier Shootout in Bloomington next month as well as the Best of the Midwest at Warren Central High School. They will do so playing in the 16-under division.

"I think we need to challenge ourselves a bit," Brown said, "and maybe play a little tougher level of competition."

By all accounts, the future of the Spiece program could extend beyond the 2009 class and Brown's role as the head coach.

Spiece has looked into building a state-of-the-art facility in Dayton similar to the one in Ft. Wayne.

"I've heard they are still looking into that," Brown said. "I think it's a matter of looking around different places and trying to plan it."

In the meantime, the Ohio Force will be a strong entity on the AAU scene in Ohio for the next few years.

So much so that even the folks in Indiana have taken a vested interest. And the next time you visit the Spiece Field House, maybe there will be a little more than just memorabilia to look at.

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