Big Talent, Bigger Goals: Marauders bring experience, high expectations into 2021-22 season

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Mt. Vernon’s Amhad Jarrard dunks against Richmond during their Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinals game at Richmond on March 3, 2021. (file photo)

FORTVILLE — When Mt. Vernon boys basketball coach Ben Rhoades takes inventory in preparation for the 2021-22 season, there’s plenty to be excited about.

With the season opener this Saturday at Class 4A Fishers, Rhoades’ 4A Marauders carry two sectional titles in the past four years, four out of five starters returning, experience, cohesiveness and a handful of football players just weeks removed from winning the program’s first state championship.

While the football team’s 15-week Class 4A championship run pushed the start of the boys basketball season back three games into early December, Rhoades sees only benefits, especially with twin senior standouts Amhad and Armon Jarrard primed to lead the defending Sectional 9 basketball champs.

“Football was the best thing that could have happened. We’re bringing a lot of people that had a lot of success, obviously, by just winning the state. I can’t understate how much of a positive that is,” Rhoades said.

“Those guys are going to play a lot of minutes. With the confidence that they have from what we did in football is obviously amazing, but it doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen because you show up on the basketball court.”

Not only do the football players understand that fact, so do their basketball teammates, who are aiming to improve on last year’s 17-7 record and regional semifinal appearance.

In 2020-21, the Marauders won the Hoosier Heritage Conference at 6-1, sharing the title with Delta (18-5, 6-1), but they also captured their first sectional championship since 2018 and a first in Rhoades’ three seasons at 39-31 overall.

Expectations are high, and the Marauders see this season as a golden opportunity to finish what they started last winter.

En route to the program’s 14th sectional all time and third in eight years, Mt. Vernon toppled host Richmond, 40-34, in the quarterfinal round before eliminating rival Greenfield-Central, 62-37, in the semifinals. The Marauders beat Anderson, 69-65, in the sectional finals, and they won four of their last five contests with unselfishness before falling to Plainfield, 61-52, at Southport Fieldhouse on March 13.

“It’s maybe more of a positive than people realize (losing at regional) in the fact that we have so many returners. We really only lost one contributor that played in Drew Walker and a couple more seniors that were role players,” Rhoades said.

“I think it’s really good with the group we had last year, with a majority of them being juniors, that last year is an experience they’re kind of drawing upon to maybe motivate them more as we move forward into this season.”

The Jarrard brothers have been preparing the entire offseason.

The senior guard duo has already cemented their collegiate futures by committing to IUPUI together. On the court, they were nearly identical in production last year.

Amhad, who stands 6-foot-4, led the Marauders in scoring at 12.9 points per game, while Armon, 6-3, produced 12.8. Armon averaged 4.0 rebounds, and Amhad wrapped up 3.5. Amhad dished out 2.6 assists per contest. Armon averaged 2.3. On defense, Armon won the comparison game, 2.2 to 1.5, but their field-goal percentages were almost mirror images at 55 for Amhad and 56 for Armon.

“I’d say, they’ve improved quite a bit. Amhad’s shooting has really improved a lot. Armon, overall, has improved his shooting and his decision-making skills. I’d say, the biggest thing I’ve seen in the first few weeks, especially not having everybody here, is the leadership piece in them, vocally,” Rhoades said.

“I hadn’t seen that before. We only had 11-12 players the last week as football made it’s run, and it’s obvious who has stepped up and been vocal and who hasn’t. I’ve been very happy with how they’ve been up to this point.”

Other than having the weight of the recruiting process off their shoulders, the Jarrards won’t need to carry the scoring load this season either.

Five players return to the roster with scoring averages of 6.8 or better, including junior guard Eli Bridenthal (6.8), a guard, and 6-3 senior forward Ray Wells (10.4), who both were key starters on the football team. Senior guard Avery Williams Jr, 5-11, averaged 5.6 ppg last year and was a two-way starter for the football team as well.

Senior guard Cooper Galli, 6-3, provided 8.0 ppg in 2020-21, which gives the Marauders a strong six-man rotation to utilize on the floor.

The goals for Mt. Vernon this season are obvious: win the HHC, repeat at sectional and take it one step further in the state tournament.

“I think the team is seeing this is a process. Something we’ve talked about the last four years. Ultimately, I think, (the Jarrards) are going to have a chance to achieve what they have not been able to do before, but that’s why you play the season. There are a lot of games before we get to the tournament,” Rhoades said.

“They handle everything well. They’re humble kids from a humble family. They don’t think it’s about them, and I still don’t think they’re going to think it’s about them. They’re out having fun, and I think they have a bright future, and hopefully, that translates into this year, too.”

The schedule will prepare them for the postseason with meetings against 4A Zionsville, 4A Westfield, 4A Lawrence Central, 4A Avon, 4A Hamilton Southeastern, 4A Mooresville, 3A Brebeuf Jesuit and a highly-competitive, seven-game HHC schedule ahead.

After their season opener at Fishers, the Marauders jump into their conference schedule with a game at Pendleton Heights on Friday, Dec. 10. Their first home game is against 4A Decatur Central on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

“They all have goals, but I think right now, the thing we’ve focused on more is just taking everything one game at a time. Getting the best that we can. Last year, I think we had maybe the thoughts of the conference we tied for and the thoughts of the sectional, but I think seeing that it is more of a process as they’re a whole year older is going to help us,” Rhoades said.

“Of course they want to win. They want to win everything, but at the same time, I was very happy the first time we had everybody in practice, the only thing anyone talked about was Fishers. Our first game. They weren’t looking ahead of where we should be. It’s a long time until we get to March.”

2021-22 Mt. Vernon Boys Basketball Varsity Roster

No.;Name;Grade;Ht.;Pos. 

10;Avery Williams Jr.;12;5-11;G

12;Armon Jarrard;12;6-3;G

14;Charlie Bostic;12;6-1;G

22;Cooper Galli;12;6-3;G

24;Eli Bridenthal;11;6-2;G

30;Darren Smith;12;6-2;G

32;Amhad Jarrard;12;6-4;G

34;Gavin Sullivan;12;6-3;F

40;George Burhenn;11;6-5;F

50;Ray Wells;12;6-3;F

Head Coach: Ben Rhoades

2021-22 Mt. Vernon Boys Basketball Schedule

Coach: Ben Rhoades, 39-31 in 4th year at school

Date;Opponent;Game Time

Dec. 4;at Fishers;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 10;at Pendleton Heights#;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 14;Decatur Central;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 17;Shelbyville#;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 18;Southport;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 23;at New Castle#;7:30 p.m.

Dec. 28;Zionsville;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 4;at Westfield;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 7;at Greenfield-Central#;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 8;Whiteland;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 14;at Avon;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 18;at Lawrence Central;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 21;Hamilton Heights;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 22;Hamilton Southeastern;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 28;at Connersville;7:30 p.m.

Jan. 29;Delta#;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 3;Noblesville;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 8;Mooresville;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 11;Brebeuf Jesuit;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 12;at Beech Grove;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 18;New Palestine#;7:30 p.m.

Feb. 25;at Yorktown#;7:30 p.m.

# HOOSIER HERITAGE CONFERENCE GAME

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