ELKHART — It remains to be seen if Demetrius Jackson will be wearing No. 1 for the Indiana All-Stars.
But he’s certainly No. 1 around these parts — again.
The Marian senior led the voting for the third straight season, this time in a runaway, as the 37th annual Elkhart Truth All-Area boys basketball team was unveiled Saturday, March 30.
Jackson was ranked No. 1 on 14 of the 15 ballots that listed his name, flirting with unanimity.
Per usual, area head coaches played the lead role in selecting The Truth’s team.
Jackson is joined on the five-member first unit by three fellow repeaters, including three-timer and decisive voting runner-up Franko House of Concord, Memorial’s Markese McGuire and Northridge junior Nate Ritchie — the lone non-senior in the group.
Penn’s Austin Torres, set to join Jackson in a Notre Dame uniform next season, completes the first five a mere season removed from not ranking among the top 25 in votes.
Jackson, who will play in the McDonald’s All-American game April 3 in Chicago, is considered a leading contender for Indiana Mr. Basketball. If he secures that honor, he’ll be wearing the No. 1 jersey that goes with it when Indiana goes against the Kentucky All-Stars this summer, and he would become the first Mr. Basketball in area history.
Echoing the sentiments of Jackson’s own coach, Robb Berger, “Demetrius Jackson is the best player in the state of Indiana,” Penn coach Al Rhodes proclaimed recently in an open letter to fellow coaches and media getting set to vote on Mr. Basketball.
“I have been fortunate to have coached two Mr. Basketballs, Jeff Grose 1985 and Kevin Ault 1996,” Rhodes wrote in part. “Demetrius has the same attitude and the same kind of work ethic that they did. He has turned himself into a great player just as they did.”
While Class 3A Marian slipped to 11-10 this winter on the heels of the Knights’ first-ever semistate appearance a year ago, it also came on the heels of major graduation losses, and it would be hard to fault Jackson at all.
The dynamic 6-foot-1 guard averaged an area-leading 26.8 points to go with 5.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.6 steals. He shot 59 percent on 2s, 39 percent on 3s and 81 percent at the line, ranking among the top eight in the area for all three shooting departments.
Jackson finished with 1,934 points, breaking a St. Joseph County career record that stood for 40 years and finishing second all-time among Truth area players, exactly 200 points behind Shawn Kemp.
Speaking of Kemp, House now joins the ex-NBA great as the lone two players in the rich history of the Minutemen to become three-time first-teamers (Kemp is the area’s lone-ever four-timer).
A matchup nightmare for opponents, the 6-6, thick-as-a-brick House led Concord to a 19-2 record, its second-best mark in the last 23 years, including a perfect Northern Lakes Conference finish. The Minutemen’s only losses were a two-pointer at South Bend Clay — the one game House missed — and the two-point, triple-overtime Elkhart Sectional stunner at the hands of Warsaw.
“I know there are a lot of coaches happy he’s gone,” Concord coach Steve Austin said. “He’s just been so versatile for us. He could be our point guard, our center, and when it comes to the crunch, I wanted the ball in his hands, letting him try to decide it, and more times than not, he made something positive happen. He’s been phenomenal, and I think his best times are ahead of him.”
House signed last November with Ball State, though with the recent firing of Cardinal coach Billy Taylor, he has the option of re-opening his recruitment.
For the Minutemen this season, House averaged a team-leading 16.4 points and ranked second among area rebounders at 8.0. He shot 57 percent on 2s and stepped outside the arc enough to drain 14-of-32 for 44 percent.
No area player stood more alone on his team than McGuire in terms of varsity experience going in, and perhaps none stood further out as his team’s best player — let alone both those things.
Still, after being ravaged by graduation, the McGuire-led Crimson Chargers finished in a three-way tie for second in the NLC at 4-3.
“I think Markese had a pretty good year,” Memorial coach Mark Barnhizer said, “though probably not as good a year as he would’ve liked. He got the brunt of everybody’s (defensive attention), probably more than anybody around here. He would’ve liked to have shot the ball better, but with what he was facing every night, it was tough. He’ll probably actually enjoy next year a little more, because he won’t have that brunt.”
The 6-2 McGuire, who signed last November with Illinois-Chicago, easily ranked second to Jackson in area scoring at 23.2 points per game. He also led the Chargers in both assists (2.8) and steals (1.8) to go with 4.8 rebounds and 82 percent free throw shooting.
At 1,246 career points, McGuire wound up No. 2 in Memorial history to Ross Hales (1,323).
Torres soared onto Division I radar over the summer, originally committing to Central Michigan, then later switching to Notre Dame.
Then the 6-7 inside force enabled the Kingsmen to soar from a 10-13 record a year ago to 17-5 and a share of the Northern Indiana Conference title. That came despite Penn losing two other Division I players, and marked the program’s best mark in six years.
“He has gone from nobody knowing his name to the big time in one short year,” Rhodes wrote recently in endorsing Torres for the Indiana All-Stars. “Austin Torres is the most rapidly improving player in Indiana and certainly in the top 10 seniors.”
Torres comfortably paced the area in both rebounding (9.5) and blocked shots (3.1) to go with an 18.0 scoring average. He shot 60 percent from the field.
“No telling how many shots he altered and discouraged,” Rhodes said. “Austin took us from a losing season his junior year to an excellent team this past season.”
Ritchie and the Raiders under rookie coach Ronnie Thomas rebounded from a rough start to go 7-3 over their final 10 games.
“I think what was most impressive was how he improved over the course of the year,” Thomas said. “The improvement in his shot selection, defense and rebounding were easy to see. Nate’s always going to have a knack for scoring, but he started taking better shots and got to the line more.”
An agile 6-6, Ritchie averaged 18.7 points to rank third in the area and was sixth in rebounding at 6.1. He shot 55 percent on 2-pointers and 77 percent at the line.
With a season remaining, he has a chance to become the ninth-ever three-time All-Area first-teamer next season.
“We’d like to see his shooting range improve and we need to see if he can guard better, because he has the athletic tools to be a heck of a defender,” Thomas said. “I think he’ll get after it in the weight room and get stronger.”
The Truth’s nine-member second team is dominated by underclassmen, including three sophomores in Concord’s Filip Serwatka, Marian’s Devin Cannady and Penn’s Jordan Geist, along with four juniors.
NorthWood juniors Jonathan Willkinson and Zach Zurcher led the unit in overall voting points, followed closely by Goshen senior Sam Stegelmann.
Westview junior Jordyn Bontrager, Elkhart Christian junior Ryan Kupferschmid and Central senior Terell Street made the cut as well.
Elkhart Truth All-Area
Demetrius Jackson, Marian sr.
Franko House, Concord sr.
Markese McGuire, Memorial sr.
Austin Torres, Penn sr.
Nate Ritchie, Northridge jr.
Jonathan Wilkinson, NorthWood jr.
Zach Zurcher, NorthWood jr.
Sam Stegelmann, Goshen sr.
Filip Serwatka, Concord so.
Devin Cannady, Marian so.
Jordyn Bontrager, Westview jr.
Ryan Kupferschmid, ECA jr.
Jordan Geist, Penn so.
Terell Street, Central sr.
(Senior unless indicated)
Bethany Christian — Caleb Morris.
Central — Blake Brouwer.
Concord — DuWhan Alford, Ramon Johnson (jr.), Adam Glanders (jr.).
Elkhart Christian — Kenny Bearss (jr.).
Fairfield — Garrett Scott, Brad Lantz.
Goshen — Jesse Good, Brady Bechtel (fr.).
Jimtown — Michael Hobbs.
Marian — Michael Whitfield.
Memorial — James Hershberger.
Northridge — Pete Smith (so.), Joey Ganyard, Sam Ahonen (jr.).
NorthWood — Will Stueve (jr.).
Penn — Conner Sowders.
Wawasee — Alex Clark (so.).
Westview — Kyle Miller, Chandler Aspy (so.).
ECA/Jimtown — Cory Waycaster (jr.).
Top 25 Vote Getters
(No. 1 votes in parentheses)
Demetrius Jackson (14) 318, Franko House (1) 299, Markese McGuire 279, Austin Torres (1) 274, Nate Ritchie 259, Jonathan Wilkinson 225, Zach Zurcher 215, Sam Stegelmann 210, Filip Serwatka 171, Devin Cannady 144, Jordyn Bontrager 125, Ryan Kupferschmid 98, Jordan Geist 98, Terell Street 93, Conner Sowders 68, Jesse Good 67, Kyle Miller 66, DuWhan Alford 56, Blake Brouwer 55, Ramon Johnson 53, Chandler Aspy 51, Brady Bechtel 36, Garrett Scott 34, Alex Clark 34, Adams Glanders 30.
About The Voting
Ballots were distributed to all 14 IHSAA area head coaches. Three Truth basketball reporters also voted. Voters were asked to rate their top 20 players in order. All ballots were returned. One coach selected a group of players, but did not rate them. Points were assigned based on ratings. Voters had the option of excluding teams they did not see. In such instances, players’ points from all other voters were averaged to assign a value. Note — Jackson received first-place votes on 14 of the 15 ballots on which he remained. One ballot had Marian excluded as not seen.