JACKSON TWP. Given the Arctic blast Ohio received over the weekend, going outside hasn’t sounded too appealing.
But for the Jackson Polar Bears, that’s precisely what has made them successful thus far and has them in the thick of the race for yet another Federal League boys basketball title. After nearly a decade in which they won two state titles with squads typically built on size ad length, this year’s edition of the Polar Bears is making its impact with perimeter shooting and leading the way has been junior guard Trent Jones.
“It’s a blessing … I have a lot of great teammates and we can shoot the ball well from the perimeter,” Jones said. “We’ve had to adapt from having big, talented guys like Kyle Young, Logan Hill and big Michael Zitney inside to being able to score more from the outside now.”
Jones set a school record for 3-pointers in a game, sinking 11 of 13 shots from beyond the arc in a 85-48 win over Barberton.
Along with senior guard Anthony Mazzeo, Sean Reed and others, Jones has been part of a group of shooters who, according to Jones, don’t go into a game with the idea that any of them has to get the majority of the shots.
Instead, they’ve taken a more balanced outlook on the offensive end and that has produced different heroes on different nights as Jackson tries to rally from a pair of Federal League losses in the first round of league games.
“We come into every game with the same mentality,” Jones said. “Whoever has the hot hand, we feed the ball, whether it’s me, Mazzeo, or even Hayden Junker or Will Hyde inside.”
Entering the final few league games of the season, Jackson is one game behind Green in the loss column and knows that it not only needs to defeat the Bulldogs in their return game at Green on Feb. 8, but likely run the table if it hopes to capture a share of the league title.
In order for Jackson to win the title outright, Green would need to lose twice in the league the rest of the way and to date, the Bulldogs have been the most consistent team in the race.
Being in a chase position, trying to run down a rival ahead of them in the standings, isn’t a familiar feeling for the Polar Bears. During the past decade, they’ve grown accustomed to being in the pole position and having a target on their backs from the start of the season onward.
But according to Jones, he and his teammates relish the challenge in front of them.
“We love it. You’ve got to work hard every day at practice and we know our coaches are working hard too,” Jones said. “It’s kill or be killed for us the rest of the way.”
While each year’s team is its own entity and players don’t specifically have to replicate the roles and styles of the graduated seniors whose spots in the lineup they fill, Jones said the players on the 2018-19 roster want to step into the shoes of players such as Young, Hill, Zitney, Ethan Stanislawski and others who were key cogs in runs to league, district, regional and state titles.
As for his record-setting outing against Barberton, Jones knows he will have a hard time replicating that effort for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is having the 13th-best 3-point shooting night in state history requires a perfect storm of factors.
Still, 3-point records have become a trendy achievement at Jackson, where just last year, current University of Maryland freshman standout Taylor Mikesell set a state record with 14 makes from long range in a single game.
The good news for Jackson is that it has won plenty of games this season in which no shooting records have been set and it’s found a variety of contributors able to tee it up from long distance and let it fly with confidence. They’ve won in blowouts and they’ve won dramatic games, such as the contest when Jones buried a game-winning 3-pointer with four seconds left in a 52-50 win over Canton McKinley.
An 12-2 start to the season suggests that approach is working and regardless of how the league turns out, Jackson seems poised to earn yet another high seed in the Canton Division I district tournament bracket. The biggest difference so far is how the Polar Bears have made their way to double-digit wins and kept themselves in the thick of the Federal League race.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB