If there is one game on the Wesco 4A schedule this season that everyone has been waiting to see, it’s likely to be tonight’s game between undefeated Jackson and the one-loss Arlington Eagles.
For both teams the game will serve as a measuring stick to see where they are in terms of competing at the state level. For Jackson it’s a chance to prove that they are head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in Wesco, and for Arlington it’s a chance to prove that they are in the same class with the Timberwolves and other elite 4A teams in the state.
The game isn’t without an interesting subplot either. Four players from Jackson (Brian Zehr, Marcus Blake, Holden Roberts and Riley Waite) and three players from Arlington (Noah Jones, Kaleb Bryson and Bradey Brummel) play together in the spring on an AAU team called North City. Tonight, those teammates in the spring become enemies for one night when they square off against each other.
Jackson coach Steve Johnson said it isn’t necessarily rare for players from other teams to play with each other on AAU teams, but said the amount of players from each team in this case is pretty high.
“It’s probably a little higher than it normally would be,” he said. “I think the way things are these days with AAU teams and all that it’s more and more likely that kids wind up playing together on AAU teams and what not. But yeah, I would say it’s unusual to have that high of a number.”
Johnson said he doesn’t think that the players’ history of playing together in the offseason really gives either team an advantage in tonight’s game.
“They might have a little knowledge about a (Arlington) guy and vice versa they might have some knowledge about one of our guys, but I don’t know if it’s anything that’s a huge advantage, but maybe a little something here and there,” he said.
Arlington coach Nick Brown said he does think there are things that players can offer during the school-season to help based on what they have learned from playing with and against their opponents in spring and summer AAU competition.
“That’s one of the things that I feel over the years — I’ve been doing this for 20 years and have been a head coach for six or seven — in the old days as a coach you had to be expected to know more about the team and I think that is still the case, but personnel-wise I go to these guys all the time,” Brown said. “These guys play them all the time. They play with them on the same team and they travel to California with them, whatever they do. I’ve used Terry (Dawn) quite a bit on a scale of what do you see and what do you think.”
All those things said, the history of the seven players who played together in the spring is little more than a sidenote to what should be a great game tonight. It is a game that features two very good teams and one very good player on each side.
For the Timberwolves, the challenge will be trying to slow down Terry Dawn. And the Eagles have the task of trying to slow down Jason Todd.
“I think one of (the Eagles) strengths is obviously they have one really, really good player, but they have surrounded him with a lot of really solid guys,” Johnson said. “It’s not like the guys around him are incapable of scoring and not capable themselves. So to me, one of their main strengths, in addition to Dawn, who is clearly an elite player in our league, they have some other guys that can do some damage, particularly from the perimeter.”
And how do the Eagles stop Todd?
“I don’t know if I have any answer,” Brown said. “We are really trying to focus on just us. I think we are pretty decent defensively…I don’t really know exactly how we are going to slow him down, I don’t think you can stop him. How do you stop Jackson? They are the best team in our league as far as I’m concerned, but I think we have a chance to be pretty good. Hey, you know what, maybe we can play with them. And if we come out on top, maybe we have a chance to be the best. And that’s where I think our guys are excited to have that opportunity because we don’t know how good we are. I think Jackson is the test and that’s what we’ve been waiting for.”