At this time of year, Nike Lady GymRats coach Danny Riego moves as fast of any of his players. Heck, he might be moving at a quicker pace than the members of his Indianapolis-based Nike Elite Youth Basketball League team.
The main reason for that is the GymRats require Riego to carry out far more than the standard coaching duties of running practices and guiding his team through events. Riego also spends a significant chunk of his time promoting his players to the national media and college recruiters.
On a recent day, Riego managed to squeeze in a few minutes with a writer before talking to a recruiter from Michigan State. By now, it’s second nature to Riego, whose program has produced a Naismith National Player of the Year, eight Miss Indiana Basketballs, seven McDonald’s All Americans, 58 Indiana Senior All-Start and 65 Indiana Junior All-Stars.
Perhaps more importantly, the GymRats have sent 312 players on to play in college.
“We’re fortunate that Indiana is a hotbed for basketball,’’ said Riego, whose program also has drawn players from Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan. “The kids start at an early age and they’re very well-schooled in the fundamentals.’’
That makes Riego’s job easier and his team for this spring and summer will be a lot like teams from the program’s past. This year’s GymRats’ most decorated player is Chloe Spreen, who is ranked No. 28 in the Class of 2024 by All-Star Girls Report and earned one of the nation’s top honors by being selected to the BlueStar 30.
Spreen, a 5-foot-9 shooting guard is a rarity in that this will be her third year of playing on the under-17 team.
“I guess you could say that Chloe was the beneficiary of the Covid year (2020),’’ Riego said. “We had some kids that shut it down and we moved Chloe up as a result.’’
That added year of experience is the reason Riego said the rest of the GymRats have taken on Spreen’s on-court identity.
“There’s an easy way to describe Chloe. She’s just plain tough,’’ Riego said. “She’ll do whatever it takes and she’s in a leadership role now. The other kids see how she plays and they play the same way.’’
Riego also pointed to two other members of the Class of 2024 before he got around to the Class of 2023. He said 6-foot forward Juliann Woodard is rapid rising in the eyes of college recruiters and the same is true of 5-7 point guard Regan Wilson after she led Noblesville High to the Class 4A state championship.
The Class of 2023 features two names that are well known, a fast-rising athlete that has only been playing basketball for three years and a pair of twin sisters that could be sleepers.
McKenna Layden, who already has committed to Purdue and is ranked No. 146 by ASGR, is a 6-1 wing from Kokomo. Her family is well known in Indiana basketball circles. Her sister, Madison, also played for the GymRats and is playing for Purdue. Their mother, Kathie, has coached both Layden sisters at Northwestern High.
Ava Couch, a 5-10 point guard from Indianapolis’ North Central High, has long been known for her outside shooting. She also is a strong student and has said that a college’s academic reputation will play a strong role in her decision.
Riego said 6-1 forward Saige Stahl reminds him a lot of Woodard in that she got a late start in basketball, but is using her athletic skills to make up for lost time. A 6-1 wing, Stahl joined Layden on this year’s Indiana Junior All-Stars.
The biggest unknown on the roster are a pair of twins from Fishers, IN that are members of the Class of 2023. They are Hailey and Olivia Smith, a pair of 5-10 guards.
“They’re the ones I’m most excited about,’’ Riego said. “People just haven’t seen them and have no idea what they can do. They’re going to be a big part of what we do this year and people are going to find out about them in a hurry.’’