Each fall Sunday in Columbus, local high school basketball savant Victor Dandridge hosts an invite-only showcase for Ohio's top prep talent. The event is free of charge, for both players and spectators, and provides a venue for Ohio's best high school players to play with and against one another each week. We sat down with Dandridge for an exclusive interview into just how the event got started, what makes it unique, and where the former Columbus Northland score keeper sees it going in the future.
Q: When did the event start? What made you want to do something like this? And how big was the event when you first began?
Coach Vic: The event started in 2008 after Jared Sullinger's sophomore year. I started this with Jared in mind. At Northland he always scrimmaged against the JV players and they were not much of a challenge to him. I thought if we could bring the top talent around to play it would help all of them get better. Good players playing with and against other good players.
I met with the management at the Hoop and they agreed that I could have two courts all for my event if each player would pay $5 to play. At first I started out with 25 players, just from around central Ohio.
Q: When did the event start to pick up with players from across the state? Who or what was instrumental in helping to bring guys from all over Ohio down on Sundays?
Coach Vic: After Northland won the State Championship (in 2009) the players there became more househould names. There were a lot of players out there that wanted to show that they could compete with those guys. So they started inquiring about how to get invited. At the time I was coaching for All Ohio in AAU so I would go to tournaments all over and watch all the different talent. I started contacting kids and inviting them to come down for the weekend. The Hoop agreed to give me as many courts as I needed as they were empty on Sundays.
Q: In those early days, who were some of the standout players in your event?
Coach Vic: Of course Jared Sullinger, J.D. Weatherspoon and Trey Burke were all great but there were plenty of others like Rob Brandenburg of Gahanna, Ralph Hill of Westerville North, Craig Sealey of Brookhaven, Traevon Jackson of Westerville South and Elijah Macon of Marion-Franklin.
Q: Compare the atmosphere of The Hoop to the current location at Reynoldsburg-Livingston High School
Coach Vic: The Hoop was bigger and I believe the players that participated at the Hoop played harder than the players that are playing at Reynoldsburg. They took it personal. Lots of great battles. There's lots of talent at Reynoldsburg but they don't challenge each other the same as the Hoop players did.
Q: Why do you think that may be? I've noticed lately that nobody really wants to play tough D.
Coach Vic: No personal challenges or anyone trying to establish exactly who is the most dominant player, the best leader.
I remember a time when Kyle Molock (Dublin Coffman, 2012), who at the time was a Purdue commit told me he wanted to go against Trey Burke and he told me to tell Trey just that. I did. The results were not pretty.
Trey killed him. It was personal.
I also remember when the Gahanna trio asked to play against the Northland trio of Sullinger, Weatherspoon and Burke, and the Gahanna trio of A.J. Jackson, Stevie Taylor and Brandenburg beat them and set the table for their upset that season of Northland.
Q: What are some of the challenges looking ahead to get this event back to that level of intensity?
Coach Vic: I think it will be helpful to mix the talent up even more. Perhaps even make it so that if you lost you must sit out a couple of games. Not just one.
I am also thinking that maybe if we just play on 3 courts and use the 4th court to do some skill set training for the players who are just on the bubble of getting an invite. I think trainers could be there and work on a couple of things with the players on the 4th court to get them ready for competition level.
Q: Who are some guys that really benefited from playing in your event? Some under the radar guys that really were discovered at Coach Vic's. Who comes to mind?
Coach Vic: Guys like R.J. Hutcherson, Devon Scott, Kevin Vanatta, Caris Levert to name a few.
Those guys came and improved week in and week out and then reached some pretty lofty goals.
One of my favorite participants though is a guy like Austin Schaub. He came in unknown and not ready. He came every week and did standby until one week he was invited. He then became a regular and went on to get a scholarship at Tiffin University, who watched him at my event.
Q: For guys who may have never received an invite and are looking to play, what is your advice to them? What's your advice to an under the radar kid that wants to be known?
Coach Vic: Work on your game. I was always out looking. Sure I cannot see everyone but keep grinding. And do not believe you are too good to be on the standby list. One of my biggest disappointments is that I didn't get to see Chris Darrington of Toledo Scott (Vincennes Univ.) and David Dennis (Harvest Prep / West Liberty Univ.) until they were seniors. Those guys were exceptional and should have been on my invite list long before then.
Q: What are the biggest pros and cons of your event? What things need to be improved?
Coach Vic: As I just stated you miss out on a lot of talent out there. Even as much as I get around that is a big negative. Also when guys aren't playing as hard as they can there is no penalty for that. Might have to change each team to six players and replace the guys that are loafing. The biggest pro's are that they get exposure, a chance to get better and a chance to play against some great talent.
Q: Who's the best player that has ever played in your event? And if you had to create an all-time starting five from Coach Vic's who would it be?
Coach Vic: Best player ever without a doubt is Jared Sullinger. In my opinion, he is the best Ohio high school player since LeBron James.
If I had to create an all-time five, it would start with Jared. Then I would take Devin Williams (Cincinnati Withrow / West Virginia), Esa Ahmad (Shaker Heights / West Virginia), Caris Levert (Pickerington Central / Michigan) and Trey Burke (Columbus Northland / Michigan / Utah Jazz).
I think they would be hard to beat.
Q: What's the most memorable performance out of an individual player that you've ever seen at the event?
Coach Vic: Tie between Trey Burke for the game against Kyle Molock and Caris Levert for playing six games on a Sunday and missing only two shots the entire day.
Q: Where do you see the event going in the future?
Coach Vic: I am going to announce this year that someone new will be managing the event in the future. I have done all I can with the event and I think it is time for some new blood with fresh ideas to keep it a success.
I will continue to assist to ensure that the event is free to the kids and attended by college coaches and writers.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to close by giving a heartfelt thanks to the parents who brought their kids out to compete. Sharing my belief and having faith that what we were doing was solely to benefit the kids. I would also like to thank every player that ever played and competed. This was your event. You made it what it came to be. I thank you for that.