INDIANAPOLIS – The Chicago suburban Illinois Mercury Elite basketball team created a buzz in the Gold Division of 17U bracket of the 140-team adidas Invitational July 12-15.
The Elite, which had one 14-year-old, five 15-year-olds, a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old on the team, knocked off the massive Franklin All-Stars of Detroit and the skilled Spiece North Stars of Indiana to reach the Elite Eight before falling to the powerful MBA Select from the South Bend area – the eventual Gold champion.
Against Franklin on July 13, the Elite faced a squad that had a starting front line of 6-foot-10, 6-9 and 6-8 players and trailed 71-63 late in the game. But the Elite stormed back for an 81-76 overtime win at the Fieldhouse in Fishers, Ind. Because it was a late game, a group of coaches and scouts numbering in the double digits heard the noise and watched the end of the game.
One veteran observer, who has been to hundreds of exposure tournaments over the years told Ruggles “I’ve never seen the college coaches openly rooting for a team at one of these before.”
The next day, the recruiting service, ScoutingIndiana tweeted: This Mercury Elite 2013 team has become my favorite team to watch…”
The Elite, who went 2-1 in pool play before the Gold run, is 17-17 overall after playing a 17U schedule this spring and summer. Ruggles, a former Lincoln-Way player under legendary coach Brad Bounds, wanted most of his younger players to get a taste of quality varsity-aged action and winning two games in the Gold bracket of a prestigious tournament helped this team “turn the corner.”
“These kids are going up against Division I recruits and some of the best players in the country,” Ruggles said. “Players are several inches bigger, several pounds heavier, faster and stronger than ours are right now. We’re holding our own against most teams and beating other teams who feature the best players on their varsity high school teams. ”
T.J. Vorva, a 6-foot-6 sophomore-to-be at Marist who hails from Orland Park, averaged four points and three blocks per game against taller and thicker older players and added six rebounds per contest.
Nate Navigato, a 15-year-old 6-6 sophomore-to-be at Geneva High School, averaged 21 points in the six games at the Invitational and was 21-of-42 from beyond the 3-point arc. He had 34 points and 10 rebounds against Franklin.
Brandon Ruggles, a 6-foot-3, 17-year-old senior-to-be at Wheaton Academy, averaged 11 points and seven rebounds per game and exploded for 26 against the Spiece North Stars. His brother, Josh, is a 15-year-old guard who will be a sophomore at Wheaton Academy who nailed 20 3-pointers and averaged 12 points per game including a 20-point effort against the Australian OzStars in a pool play victory.
Cole Gentry, a 15-year-old sophomore-to-be at St. Charles East, was an assist machine and exploded for 19 points against Franklin, including five in the OT.
Chris Parilli, a 16-year-old junior-to-be at Geneva High School, averaged more than a steal per game and shot 4-for-5 in a nine-point effort against the Bloomington Blaze in pool play.
Cam Miller, a 15-year-old sophomore-to-be at St. Charles East, had four points in the tourney and was a defensive presence who had two blocked shots against the Bay Area Blue Devils in a pool victory. James McQuillan, a 14-year-old freshman-to-be at St. Charles East, picked up valuable time against players three years older than him and he held his own, scoring 10 points and hauling down 10 rebounds in six games.
Kilian Brown, a 16-year-old junior-to-be at Wheaton St. Francis, missed the tournament but the 6-4 post player was shooting a team-high 49 percent in his first 22 games.
St. Charles’ Alan Gentry is the team’s assistant coach.