JACKSON TWP. This is the other side for Jackson boys basketball.
Last season, the Polar Brears enjoyed the benefits of a strong, eight-man senior class that led the way to the program’s second state championship. The downside of that arrangement is that the next year is all about filling in a lot of voids left by those seniors and trying to reinvent the team’s identity with a lot of new faces.
"Every year is different … it’s a process and as soon as the season is over, you start thinking about the next one," head coach Tim Debevec said. "You look at who’s coming next, you work at it and you get back in the gym, 30 days after you win or lose. There’s never a day off and you’re always trying to get the next group better."
The senior class that has multiple members now playing at the college level won 20 games each of its seasons with the program, while this year’s senior class is much smaller - Jaret Pallotta, Ethan Stanislawksi and Nick Shatrich are familiar faces - each will have a chance to assume a bigger role this season.
Pallotta and Shatrich will be late arrivals to basketball season because of the football team’s playoff berth, but when they come in, they’ll be expected to hit the ground - or the hardwood - running.
"It’s awesome that football team made playoff and you hope they go far in the tournament, but we’ve gotta go forward and whoever’s in our gym or walking our hallways we gotta get ready for the season," Debevec said.
Those who do return bring championship experience with them and while there may not be the big names that populated last season’s roster, Debevec believes this will be a tough, gritty group willing to battle and grind.
More than half of the varsity roster is filled with multi-sport athletes, many of whom played a fall sport and will transition directly into basketball. The team’s first scrimmage on Saturday is just one of five in a loaded scrimmage schedule Debevec estimated to be the toughest since he’s been head coach.
One area in which this season will unquestionably be different is the height on the roster. After having a front line ranging from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-8 the past couple seasons, the Polar Bears will be a bit shorter this winter.
"Jared (Pallotta) is our biggest guy at 6-foot-5, so we may have to play a little different, but you adjust to who you have in the gym," Debevec said. "We might press more, we might play more zone, but you’re not gonna change everything just because we lost Logan Hill and Kyle Young and those guys."
There are plenty of other names on the roster who will all be battling for playing time, including Anthony Mazzeo, Will Hyde, Trent Jones, Hayden Junker and others.
Odds are that as the preseason progresses, the rotation will change and take shape and names that aren’t at the forefront now will elbow their way into more playing time. Winning at the level the team did the past four seasons is difficult to sustain, but it’s clear that those who are a part of the program as both players and coaches are intent on not letting anything slip.
There’s a sense that even if the roster looks different, winning is still possible - albeit with a different style. The first game is still nearly a month away, but with all the work to be done, it will be here soon enough.
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