It’s with great anticipation the boys basketball season has arrived for the Marion Giants, and for many reasons.
The Giants took the court Wednesday night in Bill Green Arena for their annual “Turn Back the Clock Night” scrimmage against Indianapolis Tindley. Normally held at the Grant County Family YMCA, it was the first time Marion had played a different opponent since March, when the Giants won the sectional at Lafayette Jeff.
Although Marion was without Josh Balfour, Cubie Jones and David Jones, football players who are certain to play important roles in the 2020-21 season, coach James Blackmon was excited to be back on the court with his team and to begin the process of growth involved with every season.
“It’s exciting just to have an opportunity to step back on the court just to practice and work on things,” Blackmon said. “We’ve got a great attitude, our guys are coming in and working hard. No head cases. Everybody gets along. That just makes a pleasant atmosphere for everybody.”
The Tindley scrimmage marked the return to the court of Jalen Blackmon, who had his junior season ended by a knee injury after just eight games. There were certainly some lingering signs of the injury for Blackmon, but the energy and effort he put in to his rehab and preparation for his senior year was visible: he’s added several pounds of muscle to his frame which will certainly make him more difficult to deal with for the Giants’ opposition.
“What can you do when you get hurt? I understood it because we went through it several times,” James Blackmon said of Jalen. “He wanted to make a difference when he came back. It was visible. You can see the time he put in on his body, his conditioning. He had a goal when he got hurt to come back stronger and better and I think he accomplished that.
“He’s a gym rat. He continues to try to get better,” he continued. “His big term goal, we want to continue to work towards that. It’s not on the court, it’s what you do off the court and he’s putting all that time in.”
The Giants return several key contributors from last season including seniors Jermaine Wood, Matthew Goolsby and Rodney Gibson as well as Balfour and Cubie Jones. All five could see increased opportunities after the losses of JK Thomas to graduation and RaSheed Jones, who opted to attend a prep school in Fort Wayne for his junior year.
Seniors Sean Flynn, Jake McCarthy and K’Veonne Jackson along with junior Cornell Cardine, sophomore Omari Small and freshman Taden Metzger could all get opportunities to make an impact this season, especially early on without the three football players.
The team Blackmon has assembled should give the coach versatility in who he puts on the floor.
“Rodney can get to the rim, he’s a great passer and solid on the defensive end. … All around I think he’s going to make a big difference in our team,” coach Blackmon said.
“Jermaine can step out and shoot. David is solid on the defensive end. Sean is long. Our big men, we’re going to keep those guys fresh and keep trying to develop throughout the year. The potential is there.”
Goolsby showed flashes of his explosive athleticism and potential at times last season and also performed well against Tindley. Blackmon is hoping to get more consistent production from his senior this year.
“There was a couple plays where he did show athleticism. We want to work on that as far as not making a spectacular play, but gaining possession then go back up and finish the play,” Blackmon said of Goolby’s play in the scrimmage. “That’s what practice is for. We want to condition his mind if you can’t dunk it, bring it down, power it back up and take the two.”
The key to Marion’s sectional-championship run last season started on the defensive end which led to easy points in transition, and Blackmon said that will once again be a key this season. With the lineup versatility at his disposal, coach Blackmon believes his team can be a difficult match-up on the defensive end of the floor.
“That’s where it’s gotta start. Offensively we can score the ball, that’s not going to be an issue,” he said. “We’ve got to stop other teams. Our goal is to try to play in the 70s but we don’t want to give up that many points.
“If we decide to go small, we’ve got that. We can go small with a different lineup,” Blackmon added. “If we decide to go big, Omari showed he can play the small forward and Jermaine can step out there with Matthew. We’ve got a couple different lineups we can throw at teams.”
There was thought of postponing Marion’s first couple of games this season, at least until the football players could get back in the mix. But Blackmon has opted to go ahead with the season as schedule, mostly because of the day-to-day uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Giants open the season on Wednesday at Mississinewa and are very much looking forward to the challenge and opportunity to play.
“Mississinewa is going to be a good team. I think they lost a few guys from last year but so did we,” Blackmon said. “It will be a good game. We thought about waiting until our football guys came back but at the same time we want to take advantage of playing games.”