ELKHART — When clicking off contenders for the Northern Indiana Conference boys basketball title this year, many rabid fans will click off the usual names.
Marian. South Bend Adams. South Bend St. Joseph.
So what about Jimtown?
As coach Matt Schauss begins his third season in Baugo Township, he returns three starters, his sixth man and a player that started two years ago before missing last season with an injury. All that from a team that finished 13-10 on the season.
"We've had a taste of success with winning 13 games last season, but we have to play this year with the same kind of mentality,'' Schauss said. "To me, it's all about the details and our kids will need to buy into that and stay consistent with it all season. Plus, we have a very tough schedule and there will be times that things won't always go our way, so how we respond to those times will be very important.''
The Jimmies did lose sharp-shooting guard Austin Pearison to graduation, after he averaged just under 16 points-a-game last season, despite facing a myriad of defense aimed at stopping him. Defensive stopper Caaden Beck has also graduated.
The top returnee should be senior Preston Phillips, who has grown to be 6-foot-7. A second team selection for The Truth's All-Area team last season, Phillips averaged 9.3 point and six rebounds-a-game for the Jimmies, while also leading the team with 75 assists and 29 blocks while running the point for Schauss. He also shot 52 percent from the field.
"His role will definitely change,'' Schauss said of Phillips. "He's a very selfless kid, but he's going to have to be more selfish this year and shoot more and score more. His leadership and attitude has grown so much over the past few months and it's really show in our practices and the scrimmage.''
The other two returning starters are 6-5 senior Clay Campbell and classmate Bill Pawlak – a 6-2 guard.
"Pawlak will be a three-year starter and he's played a lot of minutes for us since his sophomore year,'' Schauss said. "He's been shooting the ball very well in practice and one of the biggest things I like about him is, he just does the right thing ... does whatever we ask of him.''
"Clay will need to be more of a threat offensively for us this year. He's a big strong guy and he should be a load around the basket. He's another guy that we only have to tell him what to do once and he'll get it done.''
Brayden Rice, a 6-2 senior, started at times last season and will fill Beck's role as the designated defensive stopper for the Jimmies.
"He's really put in a lot of work in the off-season and he's going to be a very good basketball player this year,'' Schauss said of Rice. "We know he can score the basketball, but his challenge will be trying to stop the opposing team's best player and he's really bought into that role. He wants to get those stops.''
Senior Blake Garretson returns after missing last season with a shoulder injury. The two-time Truth All-Area football player for Jimtown should add muscle and rebounding around the basket.
Senior Ethan Allen and junior Stone Norment are upperclassmen battling for playing time with five sophomores, led by 5-10 Hunter Konrath and classmate Beau Barhams.
"One of the big things that Pearison did for us was his ability to spread the floor for some of our other players,'' Schauss said. "We've harped on this this fall about not just being shot takers, but being shot takers. Campbell is 6-4 or 6-5 and about 250 and we want to get him some touches inside. That's something we've stressed in the off-season and in our practices.
"We'll need some guys to step-up and give us the depth we'll need. Konrath is hard-nosed and competitive ... not scared of anything and Barhams is a really good shooter and knows the game of basketball really well. I think our kids will all work together well and be a lot of fun to coach.''
The Jimmies will open their season Friday at Concord.