JIMTOWN — The moment the doors swung open for that semistate 10 years ago, still more than an hour ahead of tip-off, Jimtown students came flooding in at Warsaw High School, eager to lay claim to the best seat possible.
Derrick DeShone and his Jimmie teammates were relaxing courtside at the time, soaking in the calm that was the Tiger Den before the storm that would be the game.
"I'll always remember our fans rushing in because they actually head-dove into their spots," DeShone said this week with a laugh and naming a handful of his buddies in particular. "They'd been sprinting behind our bus at 7 in the morning, too, when we left (Jimtown)."
Presumably, they didn't sprint all the way to Warsaw. But it was clear. By that point in the tourney, they'd taken on the relentless, do-anything spirit of the team they were supporting.
x-Jeremy Blume, 6-1 jr.
Jake Bowman, 6-3 jr.
x-Will Cramer, 5-6 so.
x-Brian DeShone, 6-0 fr.
x-Derrick DeShone, 6-3 jr.
Ryan Forgey, jr.
x-Corey Groh, sr.
x-Kyle Johnson, 6-8 sr.
x-Tyler Leihgton, 5-11 jr.
x-Anthony Moore, 5-8 jr.
x-Tyler Nine, 6-0 so.
x-Doug Polston, 5-7 sr.
Nate Secor, 6-4 sr.
x-Nick Tierney, 5-11 jr.
x-Chris Trobaugh, 5-9 jr.
Tylor Trobaugh, 5-11 fr.
Head coach: x-Randy DeShone.
Assistants: x-Ned Cook, x-Jack DeShone, x-Ryan Gingerich, Tim Osborne, Brian Pearison, Mark Polston, x-Kent Trobaugh.
x-Denotes confirmed or expected to attend Friday, Feb. 28 reunion at Jimtown.
That team, the 2003-04 Jimtown Jimmies, went on to win what's still the only IHSAA boys basketball state title ever captured by an Elkhart County school, taking the Class 2A crown.
That team will be saluted with a reunion celebration at halftime of Jimtown's home game Friday, Feb. 28, against LaVille.
"We were a blue-collar team in a blue-collar community," Tyler Leighton said of the state champs. "It was all about working hard and always trying to improve. A lot of the really cool values I have today are from being a part of the Baugo community and the things I learned from being on that team with those coaches. There were a number of guys on that team that could've been selfish and scored 25 points a game, but it wasn't like that at all."
As it was, Leighton was the leading scorer at 16.0 points per outing, while Kyle Johnson, Chris Trobaugh and DeShone all averaged in double figures as well.
"Just the camaraderie would be the big one," Johnson said of what he remembers from that season. "We genuinely enjoyed each other, all of us. On the court we would be competitive, but there were also six or seven of us that hung out together every Friday and Saturday night."
Jimtown went 25-2, winning each of its final 21 games.
In that Warsaw Semistate, they disposed of a 19-win Garrett club 57-45.
The next week in the state championship, the fourth-ranked Jims conquered 27-1, No. 1-rated Brownstown Central 63-59 at Conseco Fieldhouse (now Bankers Life Fieldhouse).
Jimtown did it, too, despite Trobaugh, one of its starters, becoming acutely ill the night before that final game.
"Obviously, I was heartbroken for Chris, but then we said, you know, this is a fitting ending for this season," said Randy DeShone, then the head coach and now an assistant principal at Jimtown. "We had a ton of injuries that year. We played a few games without Kyle. If I'm not mistaken, only a couple guys played every game."
As it so happened with Trobaugh out, usual reserve Anthony Moore played more minutes, and his hawking, in-your-grill defense on Brownstown scoring machine Clint Parker, with relief from Doug Polston, became one of the most visible keys to the Jimmies' victory.
Few could have forecasted the title run. The year before, Jimtown went just 11-10. Further, while Leighton, Trobaugh and Derrick DeShone were already productive varsity players, they were entering just their junior seasons in 2003-04, while Johnson was coming off an injury that cost him all of 2002-03.
"I thought we could be pretty good," said Johnson, who went on to win the IHSAA's Mental Attitude Award for 2A, "but I don't think any of us thought that entailed winning the state championship. Randy did a real good job with being 'one game at a time,' so we never looked ahead on anybody, but once we got rolling a little bit, we said, 'Hey, maybe we can do anything.'"
Like plenty of Randy DeShone's Jimtown teams, this one was gnarly on the defensive end, allowing 40.3 points per game, but this one, on the way to averaging 57.1 of its own, also featured a slew of offensive hallmarks.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW
What's up with some of the Jimmies who starred for the 2003-04 state title team:
DeShone is a fifth grade teacher at LaVille Elementary and assistant boys basketball coach at LaVille High, and was head coach at Jimtown in 2011-12, succeeding his father. He married Allison last July. Collegiately, DeShone walked on at Ball State and finished his playing career at IUSB.
Johnson lives in Avon Lake, Ohio, where he teaches fourth grade, coaches freshman boys basketball and plans on coaching JV football next fall. He is married to Shawna and has four children, two boys and two girls, ages 8 months to 7 years. Johnson starred at Grace College.
Leighton is a scout for the National Collegiate Scouting Association and lives in Chicago. He has a 9-week-old daughter, Jordyn, and is engaged to marry former Notre Dame walk-on Brittney Bolden in October. Leighton played at Grand Rapids Community, Grace and IUSB. He earned a master's degree in sports administration at Valparaiso University, where he was a graduate assistant in 2011-12. He's also been an assistant at Purdue North Central, Jimtown and at Judson University in Elgin, Ill.
Those included a highly skilled big man in the 6-foot-8 Johnson, a merciless, lights-out shooter in Leighton and a deluxe point guard in Derrick DeShone, who was an extension of his coaching father on the floor.
"We were a true team," said Derrick DeShone, who will return to the reunion as an assistant at LaVille. "My dad used to say it's amazing what can happen when no on cares who gets the credit. We were very close, and very competitive. I'm not sure how many teams there are anymore where winning trumps everything, but we had a team that was the ultimate winning-trumps-everything."
"I think we were unique in our versatility," Randy DeShone said. "Kyle was a big guy who could go out on the perimeter. Usually, you're lucky if you have more than one or two players who can run all the positions, but Derrick, Kyle, Tyler, Doug Polston, Corey Groh, they could all play from a lot of different positions."
The head coach also was equipped with "a tremendous, top-to-bottom staff," as he describes it, which included, among others, defensive guru Ned Cook and Ryan Gingerich, who was "in charge of scouting and always knew exactly what we needed to do."
"The coaches did a great job for us," said Leighton who went on to play for three colleges and has assisted at three others. "Coach DeShone, he didn't mind being the villain. He would turn us all against him, but it was to make us work harder. I have to say Coach DeShone is the greatest coach I've ever been around. He knew everything about conditioning, scouting, how to motivate."
"We had a chance to win (state) because of the character of our kids," Randy DeShone said, "but as time goes on, I also realize how fortunate we were. To be the only ones (from Elkhart County), we had to have some good karma. There have been a lot of great teams around here, but sometimes all it takes is one crazy play or an injury or just a little better team that day, and you don't win. But we won."