Cats have something old, something new

Herald file photo
Justin Persohn is one of four seniors back for a Jasper basketball team that went 17-7 last season and has won 16 or more games in each of the last three seasons. The Wildcats open the season, their first in Class 4A, next Tuesday at Evansville Harrison.


Ben Elliott recalls practices where he would be matched up against Alex Allen, a 6-foot-2 power forward who graduated from Jasper’s boys program in 2016.

Elliott vividly remembers the punishment — a by-product of the physicality he’s looking to take into his own game two seasons later.

“I felt like I always had to guard him and honestly, it was terrible,” Elliott, a senior, said with a laugh.  “(Allen) is one of the best I’ve seen come through here with my own eyes and I look to do what he did. Some of that tenacity is what I look to take into this year.”

Something familiar. Something new. That’s kind of the theme for a Jasper squad that will open the season next Tuesday at Evansville Harrison.

Two years after Allen’s graduation and a year after 1,000-point scorer T.D. Nottingham’s graduation, coach John Goebel’s squad will be led by what he calls “a pretty good nucleus” of four seniors — Elliott, Justin Persohn, Austin Simmers and Eric Nordhoff.  

Nottingham, the area’s leading scorer with 17.2 ppg last season, is gone, but Persohn (8.9 ppg), Simmers (7.3 ppg) and junior Jared Englert (7.8 ppg) give the Wildcats options. Engler also snagged 7.8 rebounds per game before an injury sidetracked his season. Junior Reece Milligan also returns after scoring 3.1 ppg a year ago for the Wildcats during their 17-7 campaign.

“The most effective offenses are always the ones where you don’t rely on just one guy,” Goebel said. “Even with Nottingham the last couple of years, he may have been the leading scorer but we had a lot of guys in different situations that stepped up and contributed in games.”

Persohn compared his role of leading on the court to his role as the Jasper starting quarterback for the football team, a position he played for three seasons.

“Being a quarterback helps you to learn how to hit people when they’re not open and it’s kind of like seeing the floor in basketball,” Persohn said. “You have to know where your teammates are going to go and know where the defense is going to be, too.”

Goebel said he usually prefers to have his rotations be about 10 deep, though sophomores Elliott Hopf and Quentin Harmon are dealing with nagging ankle injuries. Thus, the Cats may have to stick with an eight-man rotation to start the season.

One of the guys expected to see time in that rotation is Elliott, a senior who will be seeing his first varsity minutes after spending the first three seasons on the junior varsity roster. Elliott feels he’s continued to show improvement every year but he’s noticed an even larger leap this season.

“I haven’t dropped a lot of weight but I’ve dropped a few pounds and that’s honestly helped me a lot,” Elliott said. “I can move a lot better now and do some more moves this year. I think just being in the gym over the summer has helped my game around the bucket become a lot more solid.”

Persohn, Nordhoff, Hopf and Milligan are just a few of the members of the basketball team that were also on the football roster. There have been seasons when he wouldn’t have had the dual-sport athletes at practice yet because of the football program making deep runs in the postseason.

While most coaches may be happy to have their full squad for every practice before their first game, for Goebel that’s more of a secondary option.

“Honestly, not having them (early in our practices) is what we prefer,” Goebel said. “We want our football team to win and the guys to come in late because that means they’ve had success on the football field and that sometimes carries over to basketball season. The only upside for is us that we’ve got everybody from the very beginning this year, but it’s certainly not our first choice.”

Wile practices have been full of various drills and drawing up plays, there are still a lot of things that need to be worked on before the Cats travel to Harrison for their opener.

“We’re still not really in basketball shape yet, so they’ve been a little rough,” Persohn said. “But the effort has been good, it just hasn’t necessarily been smooth.”

This season will mark Jasper’s first season as a member of Class 4A. The Cats will now be in a new sectional featuring four Evansville schools (Harrison, North, Central and Reitz) and Castle, which won a regional crown last season.

Goebel and his team embraces this challenge — in fact, he believes scheduling tougher opponents the past few seasons will help make things easier come tournament time. North, which will host the sectional, is back on the regular-season schedule for the first time in eight years; also new is Gibson Southern (home opener Dec. 1). On the slate as usual is New Albany; this time, it’s a Jan. 27 road game against ESPN’s No. 5 ranked 2018 recruit, Romeo Langford.

“We’ve always wanted to play the toughest opponents we can, that’s always been our philosophy even when we were in Class 3A,” Goebel said. “We always want to play our rivals but we also want to schedule the Floyd Centrals and the New Albanys of the state. Moving up to 4A will be a change of scenery and a change of pace but it’s just the way it is. It’s one of those factors we don’t have any control over. I think we see it as more of a tremendous opportunity than anything.”

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