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Giants expanding their game

PRACTICE: Marion girls’ basketball coach Lawrence Jordan redirects Jazmyn Turner during a drill Wednesday afternoon in Bill Green Athletic Arena.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

When Lawrence Jordan took over the Marion Giants girls’ basketball team last summer his priorities were to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his players and implement his system.

Now that they have been together for a year, Jordan is mixing up the summer routine. The Giants are playing in some more shootouts between all the drills, all with the idea of improving on last winter’s success.

“We are doing things different because last year we played in one shootout and that was at Indiana Wesleyan, and this year, we’re stepping out and playing a couple shootouts and more games,” Jordan said Wednesday afternoon during an open gym. “If the girls come into the gym and it’s just drill-drill-drill they get tired of that.

“This year what we’ve tried to do is give them an adequate number of games and a team camp where we wouldn’t be in the gym as much. We’re still giving them the basics but also giving them the freedom to do other things than just being in the gym individually,” the Giants coach added.

As a first-year coach, Jordan believed it was more important for his players to work on fundamentals than play games, and the Giants proceeded to finish 21-5 and win their first sectional title in 21 years.

One starter, Del’Reann Horton, has graduated and six core players are back, leading to heightened expectations for the upcoming season. And Marion showed it could be a force last weekend when it finished 6-0 in the Triton Shootout against teams from northern Indiana. The Giants had two wins over Fort Wayne Dwenger and also defeated NorthWood, John Glenn and Triton.

“We saw a lot of good things there and (tried) to bring along some of the younger girls to get them incorporated into our rotation,” Jordan said.

Jazmyn Turner, last year’s leading scorer at 15.7 points, said the players bonded and played well at Triton. The Giants have another shootout Saturday at Norwell that figures to be even more competitive with sectional champion teams Tippecanoe Valley and Concordia along with Fort Wayne Luers, the team they beat in the Sectional 23 championship game.

“Our chemistry up there (at Triton) was good, and I see a lot of stuff out of this team,” Turner said. “We played good and it went how wanted it to go. (Norwell) is going to be tougher and we just got to keep on playing as we have been playing.”

Jordan said Concordia, which was 17-8 a year ago and features all-stater Carissa Garcia, will be an especially difficult challenge. The Giants open at 9 a.m. against Tippecanoe Valley and follow up with Luers at 10:50 a.m. and Norwell at 1:10 p.m. before they play Concordia at 3:40 p.m.

“The competition’s going to be little harder,” Giants junior point guard Ellie Vermilion said. “I think we’re just as good as those teams up there, and if we play our hardest, it’s going to be good competition.”

Jordan had planned to take Marion to an AAU team camp in Fort Wayne this week but that fell through due to liability issues. Ra Shaya Kyle, the Giants’ talented 6-foot-6 center, attended the camp on her own, while senior Leilanu Jackson and some other players had prior commitments. That left Jordan with a small group for Wednesday’s workout. Overall, Jordan is disappointed with the low numbers - between 10 and 13 - for the summer activities and that includes the incoming freshmen class. He was hopeful a couple more girls would show up, but those who are out have earned his praise.

“We don’t have a lot of girls in here but they are all quality girls, and they work their butts off and everyday,” Jordan said. “I wish I could have the numbers because that’s how you build a program -- with the numbers.

“I’m hoping that as long as I keep winning and the girls buy in, then down the road I can get more girls to come out. I know the summer is always difficult because of softball, there are girls doing track, and you have different camps and other things. With girls, the passion’s not always there, and it’s easy for them to do other things instead of focusing on and putting all their effort into one thing,” Jordan added.

Marion allowed just 43.0 points last year and Jordan is devoting more time to defense in their offseason work. He also is giving more attention to conditioning, and his newest assistant Jordan Rife will work with improving the team’s strength and stamina.

“Last year, we applied a lot of pressure and there were times where we were out of position,” Jordan said. “(Assistant) Coach (Julius) Mays and I are working on pressure and recovery ... and also being in better condition.

“I feel last year we were very successful, but I don’t feel like we ever got in shape,” he added. “I’m going to make sure we are in condition before school even starts so when we open the season (in November) we will be ready from the beginning.”

Rife has been a team manager for the Indiana Wesleyan University women’s basketball team and Jordan said she caught his attention with her energetic and passionate work with the Justice Elementary players. She plans to incorporate some cross training and emphasize explosive movement.

“I have a lot of experience in crossfit and then body weight endurance,” Rife said. “A lot of explosive, high intensity movements and exercises that will help simulate what is happening in a game. Basketball’s a very explosive sport and I found that with explosive movements, such as lot of power lifting and body weight things we can help the girls get in shape faster than just running and long endurance things.”

Jordan said the Giants still have some unfinished business like winning the North Central Conference and going deeper in the state tournament. Vermilion said the players are excited about the upcoming season.

“I’m expecting a lot of good things from this team,” she said, “and we’re working here to get better.”