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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
South Side’s Ariana Simmons has orally committed to play for IPFW in the 2013-14 season.

Keeping talent home a challenge

Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Sydney Weinert played two season with the Mastodons before transferring to the University of Indianapolis.

– Even though he lived just up the road from Bloomington and within the gravitational pull of Indiana University, a young basketball player from Martinsville named Johnny Wooden decided to attend Purdue, instead.

Years later, Joe Montana left his native Pittsburgh area to play quarterback at Notre Dame. Lew Alcindor, before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, got far away from his native New York City to play basketball at UCLA. And despite his father being a three-year starter at West Virginia, later to become the school’s athletic director, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck elected to attend Stanford in another coast-to-coast exodus.

They are just a handful of countless examples of talent leaving their hometowns for colleges across their state borders or across the country.

So when Justin Jordan, a highly prized basketball player from North Side, decided to eschew IPFW and to accept a basketball scholarship to attend Saint Louis University, the 5-foot-9 guard didn’t exactly break new ground.

“Coming out of high school, I wanted to go big and get out of Fort Wayne,” said Jordan, who averaged nearly 28 points in his 2008-09 senior season.

While Saint Louis is still considered a mid-major school in athletics, it is a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference. And its even-more famous coach, Rick Majerus, led Utah to the 1998 NCAA tournament championship game.

All that was enough to convince Jordan that Saint Louis was a better place to continue his basketball career than his hometown school off Coliseum Boulevard.

Once at Saint Louis, however, Jordan realized the grass wasn’t greener near the Mississippi River. He played one year under Majerus before transferring to IPFW, where his father, Lawrence, still holds the all-time assists record and was inducted into the university’s hall of fame in 2006.

Although the younger Jordan came back to the fold, not everyone does. It is an ongoing tug of war between IPFW and local athletes talented enough to participate at the Division I level; how can it prevent some of the city’s best from becoming the city’s best athletic exports?

“The challenge we’ve had is this misconception or this belief that once a commuter school, always a commuter school,” IPFW women’s basketball coach Chris Paul said. “Nobody really knows what we have over here until they come over here. That’s the biggest challenge – opening people’s eyes and getting them over here.”

Sydney Weinert, a much-heralded 6-foot-2 forward who played at South Side and was a member of the Indiana All-Star team, turned down other offers to attend IPFW, only to transfer to the University of Indianapolis last year after playing two seasons with the Mastodons.

Meanwhile, South Side senior-to-be forward Ariana Simmons has orally committed to play at IPFW, beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

As for Jordan, he is the first Fort Wayne player on the IPFW men’s roster since Carroll’s Andrew Bourne in 2004-05.

Since then, the talent level necessary to compete in the Summit League has increased dramatically.

The conference was ranked 16th in the 2011-12 Ratings Percentage Index, one slot ahead of the Mid-American Conference, of which Ball State is a member.

“We tell people that we ranked higher than the MAC in the RPI, and people look at us like we’re crazy,” IPFW men’s coach Tony Jasick said.

The Summit League women’s RPI tied for 18th.

Jasick said getting local talent to play at IPFW isn’t necessarily the issue. The question is are they good enough?

The most recent swing and miss for IPFW recruiting was Warsaw guard Nic Moore, who chose to go to Illinois State but has since transferred to SMU.

“If there is a kid in Fort Wayne that’s good enough, that is academically qualified, I promise you this: We will be beating his doors down,” Jasick said.

The question is whether that player will open it.

Jordan freely admits that, coming out of North Side, he undersold IPFW and the Summit League. And since he knows better, he’s also trying to convey that to other players.

“When I was looking (at the Summit League), I had heard of UMKC and Oakland and IUPUI. I never heard of the other teams, so I figured they can’t be that good. Once I played them, though, it was a good league,” he said.

“I think (area players) are waiting for us to do something. They’re not sold on IPFW, yet. But in a few years, when we get the recruits, we’re going to be pretty good. It’s just a matter of time.”