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Process of building future Giants gets underway

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SHOOTING: Junior high basketball coach Kevin Alsup explains a cutting and shooting drill to campers at the Marion Giants Basketball Academy on Tuesday in Bill Green Arena.
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DEFENSE: Marion assistant girls basketball coach Julius Mays works with campers on defensive positioning during Tuesday’s session of the Marion Giants Basketball Academy. Mays, Nate McNeely and Kevin Alsup are hosting incoming fifth through eighth grade players every Monday through Thursday in June from noon to 3 p.m. inside Bill Green Arena. There is no cost to attend the clinic.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

The immediate past has been successful. The immediate future looks bright. 

But the question of what's in store for Marion High School boys' basketball in the post Jalen Blackmon, JK Thomas era is now starting to be answered. Some future Giants are meeting throughout June for instruction and learning in Bill Green Arena for the first Marion Giants Basketball Academy, and first program of its type in quite some time in Marion.   

The clinic is open to boys entering fifth through eighth grades this fall. Sessions run from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday for the rest of the month and there is no cost to participate.

Marion boys' assistant coach Nate McNeely directed several sessions of USA Basketball's Open Gym in the arena last summer and the idea for the Marion Giants basketball academy came from there. 

"It's really been within the last month," said McNeely about bringing the clinic to life. "We had been talking about it since the season started this past year and a little bit over (last) summer. What I thought we could do here at Marion High School, because there was a lot of kids that were excited to play and ready to play. It was just giving them a place to do that and building those foundational, fundamental skills sometimes we find they're lacking. ... We're finding here they don't know some of that stuff yet but, they're picking it up quickly."

Assisting McNeely are Marion's assistant athletic director and girls' basketball assistant coach Julius Mays along with varsity girls' track and junior high basketball coach Kevin Alsup.

The second half of Tuesday's session was focused on defensive principals and positioning, including help side. Campers also spent a portion of time devoted to cutting, passing, shot faking and shooting. 

Doing the drills correctly were only part of what was being stressed. How to approach and perform each drill was also emphasized.

"I was trying to express when we're going through a drill, just because no one is guarding you, that doesn't mean to not take it seriously," Mays said. "This is the time when you get better, then when you do go through live action it won't be any different. If you go hard when no one is guarding you, it makes it that much easier when someone is guarding you." 

Mays said the opportunity he and the other coaches are presenting kids is something he didn't necessarily have as a youngster growing up in Marion. Most of the skills he developed and used as a Division I player came from wisdom passed down from older players he would compete against. Mays also thinks the landscape of basketball in Marion has changed since he was nurtured on the courts. 

"Playing with the older guys, picking their brains and them picking on my game telling me things I need to work on and things I could improve on, I feel like playing against grown-man competition is what really helped me excel coming in from eighth grade to freshman year on varsity," Mays said. "I don't feel like you've got as many older guys still playing as much, and I don't think the (young) guys play as much basketball as I did growing up.  I think it's still important that we put (time) into our youth to see the program grow."

Another emphasis McNeely, Mays and Alsup are sharing with campers, an average of 30 to 35 a day so far, is that they are the future of Marion basketball, teammates now at either Justice or McCulloch, and eventually in high school. 

"What we've talked to the kids about is these are going to be your teammates coming up so let's get better right now," Alsup said. "Let's learn about each other right now, let's develop fundamentals right now and learn what it's like to be a team and improve each and every day.

"The more you play with somebody, you can read what they're doing and you don't have to call it out or talk about it," he added. "We're trying to build. Last week we hit fundamentals hard, drill after drill after drill. This we we're trying to move to a little bit more movement until we get to 4-on-4 or 5-on-5 in the next couple weeks. I'm excited to see when we get to 5-on-5 we can stop and say, remember when we did this, that's why were doing it."

And for some of the campers, 5-on-5 may come in competition against other teams from around the area and even the state. Mays said he's been in contact with a person in Indianapolis trying to arrange some games, perhaps at the end of this month or even in July after the IHSAA's moratorium week. Nothing has yet been set up though.

So for the time being, the process of teaching, learning and growing will continue for the youngest players in the Marion boys basketball pipeline.

 

"That's what it's all about, seeing that improvement," McNeely said. "And to see the improvement that we've seen in just in a week has been unbelievable. ...  They're picking up things in drills pretty quick. The effort and energy is there.

"You don't get any better unless you give 100 percent," he added. "One of the things that we've stressed, even between drills, is you don't walk anywhere on the basketball court. If you're going from one place to the next you should be getting there quick and that's how we want to run this. Every drill, everything we do is 100 percent."