Local stars leading Ancilla College to top national hoops ranking
PLYMOUTH, Ind. - Everyone in Indiana knows that wintertime is ruled by basketball. But Hoosiers also understand that much of that magic is found in the small towns many overlook.
"There’s not much to do here," said Jair Rodgers. "It’s either schoolwork, basketball, or go to Walmart. That’s the only things you can really do in town."
Rodgers is referring to Plymouth, a town that holds one of the state's best-kept basketball secrets.
"If you would’ve said 23 games in you’d be 22-1 and ranked number one in the country, I probably wouldn’t have thought that was the case," said Aaron Butcher, head coach of the Ancilla College men's basketball.
The Chargers are the nation's top-ranked team in their level of junior college, the NJCAA Division II. While they've proven to be one of the toughest teams to beat, the players who make up the team weren't always touted as the best around.
"A lot of our guys were kind of underrecruited in high school," said Butcher. "They come in here, learn how to play and develop their game and pick up their recruitment."
Ancilla now boasts several former players that have moved to the higher levels, even some in NCAA Division-I.
But the best part? The team currently ranked first in the country is full of local flavor.
Six key players for the Chargers hail from Michiana: Rodgers is a Marian grad. DK Fox went to NorthWood. Mike Green and Kyreese Parker graduated from Adams. Ty'Sean Sheppard attended Clay. Brandon Watts is a Washington alum.
“Before high school, we played against each other in middle school," said Rodgers. "We’re really good friends off the court in our town, so it’s pretty cool we have a chance to play with each other.”
“I think this is the most South Bend and Mishawaka guys we’ve ever had," said Butcher. "It’s been nice to see that the program has grown to that spot where we can get the local guys that we want and that can help us win.”
In total, 12 of the 15 varsity players are native Hoosiers, and winning has been the common theme this season.
“You hear a lot of coaches say 'we don’t talk about it,'" said Butcher. "We talk about it. We want the guys to enjoy it. It’s not often you get to 22-1 or ranked number one so we want them to enjoy it. With that, we want them to understand what that means."
To the Chargers, it means embracing the success along with their community and striving for even more.
“We have a target on our back being the number one team in the country and the conference, so we get everyone’s best shot every night," said Rodgers. "We do know we haven’t accomplished anything yet as far as conference or the postseason, so we’re working towards that.”
Ancilla has six regular season conference games left to play in the MCAA, before beginning their postseason run.