Despite finishing with a record below .500 (11-17) last winter, the Jackson boys basketball team was still able to win its seventh district championship in the last eight seasons.
The Indians did so with three underclassmen in their starting lineup, who now all have a year of varsity experience under their belts. These returning starters for Jackson are juniors guard Quinn Scott (6-foot-2), forward Nick Wasilewski (6-foot-5) and sophomore center Clayton Ernst (6-foot-8).
Jackson’s head coach Darrin Scott is excited to bring these players back to the starting lineup because he will have each of them back for another season, or two in Ernst’s case.
“It sets it up to where you can really build on things,” Coach Scott said. “You’re trying to get better every day, but you know you have a chance to get really good at some things and build on those the next year. With these guys, we can play a certain style that’s good the next couple of years as opposed to just one year.”
For Coach Scott, there are three areas where any high school player can improve over the offseason: strength/athleticism, skill level and I.Q. Players can always grow taller, of course, but the weight room and athletic training are key.
Coach Scott then expects his players to spend time on the court in the offseason improving on their own individual game. Lastly, players usually mature as they grow older, but they can also learn more about the game.
Coach Scott feels like all of his players took major steps in all of those areas.
Wasilewski led the Indians in scoring (11.4 points per game) and rebounds (7.1 rebounds per game) last winter, who also had the best shooting percentage for Jackson at 56.6%.
“Nick is still athletic, and he’s improved his skills,” Coach Scott said. “Last year, we had to play him in the post more. His skills, vision and things weren’t as good, so he’s improved that. We still want to get him inside, but he can play a bit more in the perimeter, which will allow us to be a little bit more 4-out.”
Finishing second in scoring for the Indians behind Wasilewski was their lone SEMO All-Conference selection from last season in Lane Crowden, who graduated this summer. Crowden averaged 10.8 points per contest while leading Jackson in steals at 2.0 per game and pacing Wasilewski in rebounds with 6.3 a game.
However, both Ernst and Scott finished with more than 7.0 points each contest as Quinn came up with 7.5, which was the third-highest average among players who had competed in more than 10 games. Scott was Jack-son’s top 3-point shooter by leading the team in makes, attempts and percentage (44-for-127; 34.6%).
“Quinn has worked on instead of shooting a set shot from 3-point range, he’s trying to jump up and shoot it,” Coach Scott said. “Working on strength has helped that part. For him the big thing is just getting stronger and trying to be more athletic. I think he’s done a good job with that.”
Ernst finished fourth in scoring behind Scott at 7.3 per game and was third behind Wasilewski and Crowden in boards with an average of 5.1 per contest. Ernst and Wasilewski were Jack-son’s top shot blockers as Nick had a team-high 37 while Ernst paced him at 34.
“Clayton wasn’t weak as a freshman last year, but this year he’s gotten a lot stronger,” Scott said. “For him the speed of the game early last year especially was tough. I felt like he played really well at the end of the year.”
Coach Scott said Ernst is a big who shoots the ball very well (finished third in shooting percentage last year at 48.4%), so he wants Clayton to become a better passer in the post.
Jackson only has two seniors on this year’s roster as Rhet Liley (6-foot-2) and Luke Mirly (6-foot-3), who each played in at least 24 games last winter, will continue to play vital roles on the court. Mirly was fifth in scoring with 6.4 PPG while Liley was the Indians fourth-leading rebounder with an average of 2.9.
Two new faces to the Indians this season will be junior Elliot Cowell (6-foot-3), who transferred back to Jackson after spending two years at Liberty in Wentz-ville, and freshman Blayne Harris (6-foot-1). Cowell moved from Jackson following his eighth grade year, so he grew up playing with the likes of Scott and Wasilewski.
“[Cowell] will be a starter, and as a sophomore he would’ve gotten playing time last year,” Scott said. “He’s an athletic, strong kid, and he loves basketball, so he’s worked on his game. He can score the basketball and drives it well.”
As for Harris, Scott described him as a skillful player who had a few 30-point performances as an eighth grader. “He sees the floor really well, which is a hard thing to teach. His I.Q. is really good. He does a really good job knowing where the ball needs to go and moving well without it.”