Depth is a word Billiken fans can expect to hear a lot in the upcoming season. With the program welcoming in more new players to the locker room this season, than players who actually saw significant minutes last season, there is a justifiable reason to be excited about all the fresh faces.
There has been a significant conversation about all the shiny new toys, and how each one of them will fold into the short- and long-term plans of the program. But two names stick out from the roster as they are often time omitted or forgotten about from these projections and hypotheticals. Demarius Jacobs and KC Hankton are the returning members of the program whose future roles are not cemented.
The expectations for the “Big 3” so to speak are clear. Travis Ford has said the team will only go as far as Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French take them, and Fred Thatch Jr is expected to take the leap to “major contributor”. Despite KC and Demarius both getting playing time in the NCAA tournament last March (6 minutes total) they are often excluded when conversations take place about the returning roster.
The two are also separated in the obstacles they face going into their Sophomore seasons. KC Hankton is expected to be a bench contributor as a forward who can shoot the three a little bit. We saw this a little bit last season, especially in the wake of Carte’are Gordon’s transfer, the issue facing KC was his inability to stay healthy. Every time he was expected to rejoin the rotation, he would suffer a setback and was never able to get to 100% healthy. The programs expect he plays a role in the 2019-2020 team if he can remain healthy.
Demarius Jacobs, on the other hand, does not have that background. Playing 19 games last season, almost exclusively at the end of game garbage time situations after the New Year, Demarius was also hampered by an ankle injury but his lack of playing time may boil down to more intangible factors.
Having to play behind Jordan Goodwin and Tramaine Isabell Jr at the point guard position, cracking the lineup was a tall order for the Chicago native. Especially considering the injury, and the high expectations the 2018/19 group faced. But beyond that, Demarius needed to make the adjustment to college basketball physically and mentally.
The 6’2” guard has reportedly put on close to thirty pounds since reporting to SLU just over a year ago and has taken the steps physically over the offseason to prepare himself to contribute physically. The once frail bodied guard now passes the proverbial “eye test” of a division one point-guard early into Billiken’s practice. In addition to his physical preparedness, it appears Demarius has turned a corner mentally. A source close to the program recently told me that Demarius had “a lot of growing up to do” from last season and suggesting his maturity level may have been a reason he never quite made the jump the staff had initially hoped for. While
the exact context of this needed growth isn’t exactly clear, additional comments indicate much of this may have come from needing to overcome an injury and the difficult rehab process involved in that.
That though is now behind him, the same source says Demarius has ‘turned a corner’ and is ready to make the leap to consistent contributing member of the rotation. By his own omission, Demarius has come back with a level of confidence he lost last season, “My teammates encouraged me, made me talk…they made me get involved. So then when my shots started falling, I started getting my confidence back. My teammates started all that”. Demarius crediting his teammates with his developing confidence and growth reinforces just how important the leaders on the 2019-2020 Billikens are to the success of the team, on and off the court.
Not only has Demarius come back with a new sense of self, but an understanding of his role, and how that role translates to success. “I learned last year If I play defense and get everybody else involved, we can win a lot of games. So I try to focus on that”. It is not always easy to make the transition from a central role to a supporting one, especially for young talent used to being in the spotlight. But Demarius’ growth in understanding speaks to a couple things, for starters it reminds us that sometimes highly regarded freshmen take time to mature and develop. But more importantly, it points to a leadership culture Travis Ford is developing in his program.
Based on what I’ve heard and mentioned regarding the steps forward taken by Jacobs, a less supportive culture or leadership group could have led Demarius essentially losing another season due to stunted development. Instead, the outlook by the coaching staff seems to appear more optimistic and that Jacobs could be one of the surprising standouts (in his role) of the upcoming season. “He does great things in short spurts; he’s got all the tools. If he can put it all together and do all the little things all the time. He can be a really great player”.
Demarius is aware that he needs to make a splash with how many new players are coming in to challenge for a spot, but he is confident he can bounce back “I had a rough freshmen year… I feel like I just gotta get my name back out there, I have a little something to prove. I’ll be ready.
` The role Demarius will fill into is less defined publicly at this point but there are some hints from practice that may help indicate what Travis Ford and his staff are thinking. To this point, Travis Ford typically runs his practices with a combination of groups, oftentimes rotating who is with who within drills. There is no direct indication of the first team, second team or third team groupings so to speak. But the place within each group Demarius sorts into is that of a distributor who can be a reliable ball-handler when the Billikens get out and run. On defense, he is often charged with be being the pressure point on the ball when they press.
With the amount of depth the Billikens have this season, it isn’t clear how much playing time everyone will get. But it is clear everyone will get an opportunity at some point to prove themselves. Demarius has the tools, the health, and the support around him to get his chance to break out and shine.