The Minnesota Heat 16 and Under team is considered one of the five best 16s teams in Minnesota and they have earned their spot amongst those elite. Coached by Willie Vang the Heat won the 16 and Under state championship in June and last week Vang's club was the 16 and Under champions at the Best Buy Summer Classic.
Ryan James of Minnesota Preps: This here is young Willie Vang the coach of the Minnesota Heat 16s, the director of Minnesota Heat basketball, and of course a coach at Irondale. Last week Willie and the Heat 16s won the Best Buy Summer Classic and the first question is what did your team do to be able to hoist the championship trophy?
Willie Vang: I thought we played very balanced basketball and we won three games without the Preiners (Luke and Drew Preiner who are 6-foot-3 twin wings from Tartan High School), which was big. Overall I thought we played very steady and led almost all games the entire time. Through the event the only time we got down against a run was against the Wisconsin Playmakers and Mean Street Express who both made runs in the second half. As far as resiliency goes we really never gave up a big lead and always came through in the second half to win.
A big thing for our team is our depth as we go deep on the bench to get players who are equally as good. We really don't have any stars on our team. Each kid can come on the floor and pick up where they other guy left off providing their own thing productively.
MN Preps: Playing the Wisconsin Playmakers in the finals of the Best Buy Summer Classic what did your team have to do to beat them?
Vang: The number one thing we did against the Playmakers was containing their big dog Paul Jesperson who everyone talks about. When we played them in April we did a very good job of limiting him and every time he came across half court we had one of the Preiners put their hands on him.
MN Preps: Jesperson is a player who can be a deadly scorer. But he's a guy who is better creator of his shot without the ball than with it obviously doing better with a good offensive structured system around him. You guys have been physical with Paul as well as limited the creation opportunities of what they have for guards and that helped as well. What I'm saying is that within a system with a creator Jesperson can score in many ways and he will continue to do that for many years at both the high school and high college level. But when you can take away the creation of the offense around him you can play physical on him and make him try to score on his own off the bounce where they were not as successful.
Vang: Yeah, we were just very physical with the Preiners on him and in April he shot three of 15 I believe so we knew we could be affective with that. And we didn't switch screens at all making them fight through with a guy helping as we were just focused on him. This time in July he had about 11 or 12 points on five of ten shooting and we were definitely focused on frustrating him with our defense. And the Preiners are really good defenders which helps a lot.
This time they seemed to run a lot more sets, which was a change from the semi-final against the Mean Streets who never ran a set. Against the Playmakers they ran a set every time down the floor. They were running like a wheel and we were chasing over the top and getting caught with them getting open shots. Later we cut them underneath making their shots longer and that had success. Our number one goal was to contest every Jesperson shot and everything we did defensively helped us reach that goal.
MN Preps: That Mean Streets game seemed to have it's little battle and it was a tough contest. What happened in that game that allowed your team to come out on top?
Vang: In general against the Mean Streets we did a very good job of controlling the tempo of the game. They tried to push everything running up and down. At times we can play that way but we didn't want the game in the 70s and 80s so we slowed everything down but didn't play zone. We never play zone and we take pride in playing man-to-man defense as that helps better prepare the kids for high school basketball. We wanted to force the Mean Streets to beat us from the outside almost playing a pack line defense because they are so athletic.
At the end of the game Big Baby Davis (his real name is Antonio Deramus but all the Minnesota teams that have played the Mean Streets think Antonio reminds them of Glen Davis from the Boston Celtics so they nicknamed him Big Baby Davis) was being so chippy and one of their guards hit Riley West (Lakeville South) in the private area when they were trying to intentional foul. From there Big Baby Davis came up and shoved Luke Preiner. Then Max Watts shoved Big Baby Davis which shocked me because I wouldn't shove that kid out of a fear for my life. From there the refs got between the players which was good so Luke walked away and the big guy came from behind and rocked Luke right in the head. It was a total cheap shot aimed right for the head. So there was the ejection and several technicals. After everything it was like a ten-minute delay of the game. They were only down by a couple baskets but that wrecked any chance they had of a comeback.
MN Preps: Your team has a lot of depth with players taking part in similar roles. Talk about the depth of your squad explaining some of the things it allows you to do.
Vang: This is a very balanced team with a lot of depth. We have some kids who can handle the ball better than others and that would be Riley West and the Preiner twins. Our offense is five out so once Riley passes to the wing all the roles on this team are similar as they are a very diverse type of players on this team all with a lot of ability.
We don't have the type of guy who if you take him out of the line-up we don't have somebody to replace him. Not to throw the Pump 16s under the bus but they were a much different team without the ability of Jonah Travis. For us we really don't have that. If you take away Riley West we will have somebody step up and do what he did. If you take away Rob Daul (Hill-Murray) we have others to step in and do what he did and so on. Everybody can rebound, everybody can handle the ball, and the Preiners are a good example of our team because they are like everybody else in the fact that they are 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 and can handle it, shoot it, rebound, etc. There really isn't a back to the basket guy just good shooters and good rebounders. It's a huge advantage for me because everybody can play so many positions.
MN Preps: I know you played the Minnesota Comets earlier in the year and lost but how about some of the others? Have you played Chris Carr's team, the Pump 16s, or the Pulley 16s team at all this year?
Vang: We have not run into any of them. We were hoping to play the Pumps in the last tournament but that didn't happen. We also were hoping to face them in April but we didn't hold up our end of the bargain as we lost to Wear Out the Net in the quarterfinals of that tournament. We haven't even been in the same tournament bracket as 43 Hoops. They have been out of town or always playing up (the Comets Invite and Select Classic). The games can't happen now as we only have one more tournament and it's in Orlando at nationals while they are in Vegas. So we have to wait another year but our kids are always talking about playing them so hopefully next year we can get that done.
MN Preps: You guys did face the Comets the one time early and they beat you how was that game?
Vang: It was a game early in the year and it was a good game but that Reeves kid (6-foot-7 Brian Reeves from Willmar) just killed us. At 6-foot-7 he can handle it and without him it's been such a different team. The Comets are going to be very good once again when they have Reeves in their line-up (Reeves moved to Chicago for the summer with one of his parents).
MN Preps: Looking at your players this is definitely a team that division two schools in Minnesota will be all over next year. Is there any recruiting attention coming the way of your players as of yet?
Vang: To be honest there is not much attention yet. Most of our kids are a little under looked in my opinion. The Pump N Run and 43 Hoops teams seem to have all of what you would consider the big names. Anything that our kids have received early is a feeler for the future. Riley West has been invited to the Iowa State invite camp next summer and that supposedly only has about 50 to 75 kids invited to. The Preiner twins have had some calls of interest but nothing has really come in terms of major interest. I think right now that some of our kids are under the radar. For example if you were to look at a list of the top 35 player prospects or whatever 19 or 20 of them are pry Pump or 43 kids which is pry accurate but I think our kids are close. They may be a year away but what we are doing in July will help them.
Six-foot-7 Spencer Pankonin is a player with good upside but hasn't yet scored much attention. He started playing with us after being done with Wear Out the Net and Spencer is a big kid with a very good shooting touch and good shooting range. He plays at Lakeville South with Alex Richter and while Alex gets a lot of attention Spencer may get similar recruiting looks when its all said and done because of his size, touch, and range. I know several low and mid majors have already shown some feeling interest in him when they saw him work out at the school.
But for most of our guys I think it will be another couple months before they really start hearing some stuff from schools. Six-foot-6 Jon Christensen is a good worker at his size and Paxton Harvieux is a good shooter from Stillwater at the same size of 6-foot-6.
MN Preps: So what is next for the Heat 16s? How are things setting up for Orlando?
Vang: Orlando is our last event and I just received the info but I haven't opened it yet. Looks like there is over 100 teams so to prepare we have two practices this week including one with our 16s Black team where we will scrimmage. And then we'll have our own last individual practice Thursday and we leave on Friday for the tournament. Two more practices and nationals is where we will wrap things up.