The Fort Wayne Flite defended home court in the Summit City on Saturday afternoon.
The Flite, a semi-pro basketball team made up mostly of Fort Wayne natives, beat the Memphis Rail Runners 98-86 at Wambsganss Gymnasium on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary to win the championship of the inaugural Minor League Challenge, a four-day semi-pro tournament played entirely at Concordia.
Leading the way for Fort Wayne was former Horizon Christian and Bethel star Keonte Jenkins, who poured in 24 points, including 15 in the first half as the Flite built a double-digit lead, and earned tournament MVP honors.
“It's special,” Jenkins said of taking the title in Fort Wayne. “I mean, I grew up watching these guys (the Flite, which began playing in the Central Basketball Association in 2014) when I was in high school so it's special to come out here and come back (to Fort Wayne) and win one myself.
“It's incredible (to be playing basketball),” he added. “For the last two, three months, we've just been sitting in the house and I just had basketball on my mind the whole time. When I saw this opportunity, I was like, 'I've gotta get ready for this.'”
The Minor League Challenge was the brainchild of Summit City Sports' Jeff Mahoney and the Flite's Bennie Lewis. The idea was to get a group of semi-pro teams to play a tournament in one location to better facilitate the use of livestreaming video, which the players can then send to professional teams in the hopes of getting contracts.
The MLC was originally scheduled to be a six-team tournament in May, but the novel coronavirus pandemic pushed it back and forced teams from Chicago, Nashville and Bowling Green, Kentucky to cancel their visits. It was instead played over four days this week with teams from Memphis and St. Louis visiting Fort Wayne and staying at Concordia for the duration of the tournament.
All three teams went 2-2 during the pool portion of the tournament, but St. Louis had to drop out because a few of its players got injured, leaving Fort Wayne and Memphis to play for the title.
“When you look at Fort Wayne and Memphis, each one of these teams has five games now of updated video that their agents can use to help get their guys contracts overseas and ultimately that's what it's about,” Mahoney said. “We've had so much success with guys playing in Australia and just different areas where they can make money while playing basketball and it just prolongs their careers.”
The championship game was played in front of a sparse crowd for social-distancing purposes and the referees wore masks. The game itself was a fast-paced, intense matchup, with Fort Wayne jumping out to a 54-42 halftime lead before Memphis clawed back to within two in the third quarter.
Fort Wayne took control again with a flurry from Jenkins early in the fourth. He made a terrific cut to the basket for a layup, grabbed an offensive rebound off a free throw – Flite coach Chief Johnson said rebounding was the 6-foot Jenkins' most important contribution – that led to a basket and then nailed a deep 3 in quick succession to extend Fort Wayne's lead to 79-69 with less than eight minutes left.
“He was huge, man,” Johnson said of Jenkins. “It took me two days to get him to play his game. He was playing really reserved. I like to let players play the way they play and he finally woke up and did that. ... He can play, he can really play.”
Cameron Leshore, who played at Wayne and Bishop Luers, added 15 points to help the Flite grab the victory. Former North Side star Antonio Wilson added eight points, while Whitney Harris of New Haven chipped in six.