MISHAWAKA — Robb Berger hasn’t started a season as Marian High School boys basketball coach without having Demetrius Jackson on hand since 1998.
On the flip side, he says he hasn’t begun one with this combination of size and athleticism on the interior ever.
To clarify that first, somewhat-trick fact, Berger returned to the Knights in 2010, as Jackson was beginning his sophomore season. The coach had concluded a previous three-year tenure at Marian in 1998-99.
Of course, to riddled opponents, it probably seems like Jackson had been around since about 1999 anyway.
The Mr. Basketball runner-up — who averaged 26.8 points, 5.7 rebounds. 3.5 assists and 2.6 steals last winter — is now playing at Notre Dame, and the Knights are now preparing for life post-DJ.
Don’t wail too much for the program, though.
The Knights still have a Division I prospect at guard in junior Devin Cannady, plus, with players like 6-foot-7 Nick Harris, 6-5 Will Whitten and 6-4 Anthony Blum — all of them underclassmen — “we’re bigger and more athletic on the inside than we’ve ever been in my time here,” Berger said.
As it is, even with Jackson, Marian did stumble to 11-10 last winter (9-4 over the final 13 games with the four losses by a combined 13 points), on the heels of its record-setting 22-4 finish in 2011-12 by a senior-dominated club.
Now the Knights look to rebound with a pair of returning starters in Cannady and guard Quron Marks, and a few other players who saw regular chunks of varsity time in Harris, Whitten and sophomore Jake Whitfield.
Marian opens Tuesday, Nov. 26, by hosting Goshen. That’ll be followed by four straight road contests before the team returns home Dec. 20.
Q&A WITH MARIAN COACH ROBB BERGER
Q: How has Devin Cannady progressed over a year ago, and is he ready to handle being the lead target of opposing defenses?
A: “We’re expecting Devin to have an outstanding season. He’s fine (after missing part of the football season due to a knee injury). He had a good offseason, a great AAU season, and through the first few practices, he’s doing a great job penetrating, shooting the ball well, being more of a leader. With Demetrius (Jackson) gone, it’s true, he’s going to have to be stronger. Defenses will be geared toward him now, but hopefully, we have some other options if people want to take him away. I think we do.”
Q: Who are those options, at least the ones who might start, and what do they bring?
A: “Quron Marks is a smart player who can shoot outside, can penetrate and kick. He’s got a chance to start. Jake Whitfield played as a freshman. He can also knock down a shot, and he’s strong, does a good job on the defensive end. Ryan Schafer is a gritty kid. You’ll like him if he’s on your team, but probably hate him if he’s not, because he’s a tough kid who competes and plays hard. Nick Harris played a lot for us last year. He’s gotten a lot better as far as understanding what we want. He’s strong and athletic. Will (Whitten) is also big, and he’s stronger. Anthony Blum is a very athletic sophomore who’s going to play for us.”
Q: You did have the area’s and one of the state’s premier default or clear-out buttons you could push with Jackson last season. What does losing that dynamic mean for the team?
A: “It’s going to be tough to replace Demetrius, but last year we were kind of one or two-dimensional. Our team was young and other teams did an outstanding job gearing toward Demetrius and Devin. This year, if Devin’s having an off night, I think we have some other guys on the perimeter, or we can bang it inside. We’ve been very guard-oriented the last three years, and I think this is a year we’ll have some good balance.”
Q: What’s the outlook defensively?
“I think we’ve got real nice team there. We’re long and athletic, and in the past, we haven’t been that way. We’ve had some quickness on the perimeter, but with the zones we like to play, now we’ve got some guys that can help cover the perimeter and rebound better as well.”
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr.
3 Devin Cannady G 6-3 Jr.
4 Jake Whitfield G 5-11 So.
5 Quron Marks G 5-8 Sr.
10 Julian Hubbard G 5-11 Jr.
12 Ryan Schafer F 6-2 Jr.
14 Michael Voor G 5-10 Jr.
21 Jai Wood G 6-3 So.
22 Will Whitten F 6-5 Jr.
24 Nick Harris F 6-7 Jr.
41 Anthony Blum F 6-4 So.
44 Connor Dalton F 6-5 Sr.
Coach: Robb Berger (189-142 in 15 seasons overall; 89-43 in six seasons at Marian; 94-84 in eight seasons at Mishawaka; 6-15 in one season at Wawasee).
Assistants: Joe Kozinski, Pat Nash, Tyler Dendy, Matt Sobieralsi.
26 — Goshen.
6 — at New Prairie. 7 — at FW Luers. 13 — at SB Clay (c). 14 — at Triton. 20 — SB Washington (c). 27 — vs. Elkhart Memorial at Mishawaka HS in NIC/NLC Shootout. 28 — vs. Concord at North Side Gym in NIC/NLC Shootout.
10 — SB Riley (c). 15 — at Jimtown. 17 — at SB St. Joseph (c). 24 — at Elkhart Central (North Side Gym) (c). 28 — Chesterton. 31 — Mishawaka (c).
4 — Culver Academy. 13 — at SB Adams (c). 18 — LaVille. 21 — Penn (c). 25 — Bremen. 27 — at SB Riley (nonconference).
(c) — Denotes Northern Indiana Conference games.
Marian RETURNING LEADERS
Points: Devin Cannady 14.4, Nick Harris 3.4, Jake Whitfield 2.8.
Rebounds: Cannady 4.1, Harris 2.9.
Assists: Cannady 2.0, Marks 0.7, Whitfield 0.7.
Steals: Cannady 2.0, Marks 1.0.