By Matt Anderson
— Family first, education second, and basketball third.
That’s what Mark James tried to implement in his first year as the Ben Davis boys’ basketball coach. The 30-year coach expected some resistance, but in the end he molded his team and had a nice 18-7 record to show for the effort.
“We thought it would take us three or four years to get attitudes correct and things changed and it’s really happened faster than I thought,” he said. “I think down the road that’s going to pay some dividends for us.”
The Giants hope those dividends come as early as this year. Last season the boys were knocking on the door all season long but couldn’t quite capture a title. They finished third in the MIC and lost in the finals of their sectional and the Marion County Tournament.
“We’d like to try and win a championship,” James said. “Our schedule is just really, really good this year again and we’ll have to play very well just to compete.”
Their sectional loss to Pike had to sit with them the entire offseason. The Giants lost 88-67 in a game that was not all that close to begin with.
“The Red Devils really spanked us bad the last time we played a basketball game so hopefully, we’ll build upon that and be playing a little bit better, more competitively at the end of the year than we were last year,” James said.
The Giants will have some shoes to fill with the departures of Trevor Thompson and leading scorer Harry Wills. Wills was first team all-county, all-conference, and a city-county all-star.
Both are playing a year at junior colleges this season with Wills at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania and Thompson at St. John’s Northwest Military Academy in Wisconsin. Thompson recently committed to Virginia Tech for 2013.
Harry’s brother, Tony, is a returning starter and the team’s top returning scorer (15.2 ppg). The Illinois State recruit was second-team all-county, all-MIC, and an Indiana junior all-star.
The Giants also return starters Michael Beaty and Brennan Gillis. The 6-foot-6 Gillis saw plenty of playing time last year as a freshman and bulked up during the offseason.
“He’s a lot stronger physically,” James said. “I think he’s improved a lot. It’ll be interesting to see what type of year he has.”
Jordan King, Jeff Wilson, and Deaire Tate also return. Each saw playing time last year off the bench.
“So, we got some experience; we’re just out for a little bit different style of ball,” James said. “[We’ll] try to do some things a little different defensively and try to adjust to the abilities of our kids.”
With the season just around the corner, the team is a little banged up but all should be ready to go by their season debut Nov. 24 against Northwest.
“We’re trying to get them healed up right now,” James said. “That’s the big thing about coaching basketball. It’s like driving on ice. You never know what exactly is going to happen between the officials, the ball going in, injuries, where you play, who you play ... there are a lot of things involved.”