Matheis, Merkel provided Dubois sparkApril 14, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
They grew up together, were best friends, did everything together and their friendship carried over to the basketball court, where opposing defenders would have an arduous task of stopping them.
Alan Matheis and Steve Merkel were a dynamic duo when they suited up for Dubois. Matheis was a grade ahead of Merkel. The former graduated in 1965, the latter in 1966, and they made sure to wreak havoc before they split after Matheis’ senior year. The two became known as the M&M Boys.
“It couldn’t have been any better, because they were both tough,” former Jeeps coach Rex May said with a laugh.
May took over at Dubois in the 1963-64 season when Matheis was a junior and Merkel was a sophomore. He was an offensive-minded coach. May saw it as his job to get his Jeeps into different offenses at that time, and he thought his players responded well.
“My theory in coaching was I wanted to score, and I told them that,” he said. “I think my job as a coach, and I think that’s anybody’s job as a coach — when you see this team play, if they’re good at man-to-man [defense], you’ve got to have some kind of offense. If they’re good at zone, you’ve got to have a zone offense. You’ve got to have some offense.”
“We were very fortunate to have Coach May, because he was an offensive-minded coach, and he let you do things offensively, which meant you could score some points, and, of course, if you score some points, you’re going to get recognized,” Merkel said.
Matheis and Merkel made strides when both of them were upperclassmen. The Jeeps graduated their leading scorer, Rich Harder, in 1964. They had a veteran group for the 1964-65 campaign — seven of their 10 players on the preseason roster were upperclassmen. Merkel scored 360 points to become one of the county’s leading scorers. Nobody in Dubois County scored more points in the regular season than Matheis, however, who tallied 474 points.
“Back in the ’50s and the ’60s, the game was a little quicker there in the sense that it was a run up-and-down game,” Matheis said. “There was a lot more scoring than what there is in the games today. That was part of it also.”
Matheis, Merkel and players such as Morris Kalb and Mike Bair helped lead the Jeeps to a 16-4 record in the regular season, the best record of any team in the Huntingburg sectional that year. Dubois not only averaged a season-best 70.9 points per game on offense, but held opponents to 55.5 points per game, which was also the fewest going into the sectional.
May credited the M&M Boys for making him who he was at that point.
“You win, you’re a better coach,” May chuckled. “And they won.”
Matheis and Merkel drove to French Lick to play pick up games against some of the Springs Valley players when they were younger, and the duo would renew their rivalry against some of the Blackhawks in 1965. This time, the stakes were higher in the opener of the sectional.
The Dubois County Daily Herald reported in the Feb. 27, 1965, edition that the Blackhawks were favored in the game despite the Jeeps having the better win-loss record in the regular season. Dubois held the advantage for much of the way, and garnered more boards than Springs Valley did, but committed 20 turnovers to nine for the Blackhawks.
Matheis, despite having a double-double with Merkel, totaled four fouls by the third quarter, and sat out until 2:15 to go in the game. The Jeeps still led, 51-46, after three periods, but the Blackhawks rallied to tie and take the lead. It was a 58-58 game before Springs Valley went on a 6-0 run, and essentially put the game away for a 68-60 win.
“It was a very competitive game and we were probably as good a team as there was at the sectional that year. But sometimes, you just don’t play well enough or it doesn’t turn out where you win, and that’s the way the game of basketball goes,” Matheis said.
Matheis went on to continue his career at Oakland City University, and then Texas Wesleyan University. His absence was the toughest thing for Merkel going into his senior year. However, it wasn’t just an adjustment for him personally as a senior. Merkel said the Jeeps weren’t playing well the first three or four games of the season. They soon found their stride, though, going 14-6 in the regular season.
The Jeeps found themselves matched with Huntingburg in their first sectional game of 1966, and got by the Hunters, 78-72, behind Merkel’s 26 points. Merkel and the Jeeps would get a rematch with Springs Valley in the semifinals. He posted 32 points, but it proved insufficient as Springs Valley won, 66-61, and then 59-57 against Jasper in double overtime to capture another sectional title.
Merkel scored a combined 58 points in those two games, which was enough to lead the sectional. He spent two years playing at Vincennes University before going over to the-then Grand Canyon College in Phoenix.
Both men went on to coach in the area. Matheis coached the boys — and eventually the girls — at his alma mater. He won a boys sectional championship with the Jeeps in 1988, and state runner-up finishes with the girls in 2005 and 2012. Merkel coached at Heritage Hills, winning sectional championships in 1997 and 1999.
This also meant that the M&M Boys coached against each other in their careers.
“I had a little guard by the name of Jason Wilkerson, who was pretty quick, good ball handler and we were playing the game, and I noticed every time I took him out, he’d start pressing us,” Merkel said. “I put him back in right away, and he’d take the press off because this kid was quick and a good ball handler, and I noticed every time I’d do that, he’d kind of look down at me and smile a little bit. He knew what he was doing, and I did, too.”
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