Last Sunday I had the opportunity to the checkout some of the action at Victor Dandridge’s open gym at the USA Sports Academy in Columbus, and as expected, the gym was brimming with elite level talent. Since Dandridge, known as “Coach Vic” by most of us basketball junkies, started the open gym six years ago as a platform for competitive play, the local concept has grown into a statewide phenomenon that now attracts top high school varsity level players from across the state.
Each Sunday at about 5:30pm between the second week in August and the 2nd Sunday in October, many of the state’s top young ballers can be found battling out to see who can get to and stay on what Dandridge calls the “winners court.” According to Dandridge, the success of his event is simple, “Great players want to play with and against other great players. They get a chance to do that here,” said Dandridge. When Coach Vic talks about great players, he’s not just talking about high school stars, but the fact that college and pro guys who have played in the open gyms often return to play against the young guns.
The criteria to participate in the open gyms are simple; you must be a varsity level player; you must show up if you say you will, and you must obey Dandridge’s rules. That has not been an issue so far. “The kids here respect the game and are reliable and responsible. In the 5-6 years I have been doing this we have never had a fight,” boasted Dandridge.
In terms of last Sunday, there were 70 kids in the gym, about 10 more kids than is ideal. “With the growth of the open gym, I have to turn kids away,” said Coach Vic. Some of the standout performers I saw while I was there included Ohio State commits Jae’Son Tate (6’5 WF Pickering Central) and Amos “AJ” Harris (5’9 PG Dunbar). Harris has clearly established himself as the top PG in the state, and his ability to separate from his defender is unmatched in the Buckeye State. I saw him putting guys on skates for the short time I was there. Tate is a straight man! According to another scout in the building, Tate may be playing his way into the McDonalds All-American game! Extremely athletic with an elite motor best describes Tate.
I was also really impressed with Kipper Nichols (6’5 PF St. Edwards). I always knew the kid was athletic, but his skill set has caught up with his athleticism. I saw the kid hitting pull-up jumpers in transition and dropping dimes to teammates. I’m not sure what schools are on Nichols, but I have to believe high majors are in the hunt. I always liked the kid; now I love him! According to Dandridge, Gahanna’s Manny Powell (5’5 PG Gahanna) is not getting enough credit for how is game has developed as of late. I also heard from another source that Powell played very well on Sunday and actually outplayed some other guards. I saw him do a couple of nice things as well in the short time I was there. Esa Ahmed (6’6 PF Shaker Heights) and Javon Bess (6’6 WF Gahanna) both had solid performances according to sources who watch them more than I did.