Marion’s 2019-2020 season was marked with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
At the annual Marion Classic, star point guard Jalen Blackmon was lost for the season with an ACL injury, fostering doubt that they would be able to win many games, much less another sectional title.
However the Giants came together as a unified squad, Head Coach James Blackmon made the necessary adjustments, and Marion ended their season with their 70th sectional championship.
“Last year, we started to make some changes, and we started playing really good basketball after the Christmas tournament,” Marion Head Coach James Blackmon said. “Unfortunately, Jalen went down, and our team went through a lot of adversity, but we figured out a way to be successful. Being a part of the Marion Giants tradition, we are used to winning, and we just had to figure out a way to play within each other’s strengths. Guys started believing, and we made the turn at the right time.”
Now, with Blackmon back at full strength and surrounded by a strong complement of players, the Giants are ready for another strong season in 2020-2021.
“Right now, we are coming with the mindset of not taking things for granted and being appreciative of the opportunity to be on the court again,” Blackmon said. “Hopefully, we can go out there and continue to play good basketball this year.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affected the Giants in a variety of ways. Not only did it change their offseason preparation, but it also prevented them from continuing their run in last year’s state tournament.
Consequently, it has not taken much to motivate the Giants.
“This senior class has been disappointed quite a bit,” Blackmon said. “When you think about AAU, as far as being able to participate in AAU summer [leagues], which were restricted. Now, we are just appreciating the opportunity, and guys are working really hard.”
Along with gym workouts two days a week in July, the Giants played in a league in Fort Wayne for about six weeks, playing two games a day on six consecutive Sundays. Since the preseason began, the Giants have worked on multiple areas of play, and Blackmon is pleased with the progression.
“We’ve been putting offensive sets in and defensive sets in,” Blackmon said. “We want to see what our strengths are. It’s a lot. We can’t get it all done at one time, but it’s a building process.”
The team has put in the work, and Blackmon is pleased with the progress they have made despite the challenges they have faced.
“They were consistent,” Blackmon said. “They stayed and came to work out, and in the summer, that’s where players are made. We wanted to see who was going to be serious. That’s not a mandatory time, so if you can come during the summer when it’s not mandatory, those are the guys that stand out.”
While Blackmon was recovering from his injury, he put the time in the weight room, and the results speak for themselves. The senior put on about 15 pounds of muscle, primarily upper body, all while seemingly not losing a step in his playmaking ability. According to Coach Blackmon, Jalen will be ready to go this season.
“Unfortunately, that’s part of the game, guys get hurt,” Blackmon said. “It was bad timing. Nobody anticipated him getting hurt. But my oldest son, James, and Vijay [also suffered injuries], Jalen was there. He watched those guys put the time in and rehab themselves and come back even better. I think he had that same mindset. You can see something visibly when you look at him. He really hit the weights hard, and took advantage of the opportunity. I think he is 100 percent.”
The Giants will have plenty of other options at their disposal along with Blackmon. Matthew Goolsby, after a strong junior campaign in the post, will look to take his game to another level in his senior campaign. Jermaine Woods will look to take on a bigger role in his second season in the Giants’ system with the departures of Rasheed Jones and Cubie Jones, and Josh Balfour brings back varsity experience, while younger players like Omari Small and Taden Metzger will look to carve roles in the Giants’ rotation.
“When people leave, that’s an opportunity for someone else to step up. We have a good group of guys who are competitive,” Blackmon said. “We got the pieces here. I know we lost some key players, but at the same time, we’ve got some players who can contribute.”
After potential COVID-19 exposure and subsequent quarantine, Marion’s first game will be on Friday, December 11 against Richmond.
“Guys have been working hard,” Blackmon said. “We’ve got guys that are excited about the opportunity, and we are just excited about getting started.”