There is a trend staring to take shape in our countdown of top area teams – a chip on many of their shoulders in the year of COVID.
Churubusco is one of those, a defending sectional champion that never got to see where else that run could take it. The Eagles were hours away from getting on a bus to take them to the site of their regional when the season came crashing down.
It hurt. And now, a rebuild from losing key senior pieces is much more than your normal transition year. Coach Chris Paul also has to bring back his three returners emotionally from what was a draining moment and has continued to be a draining year.
Positivity comes in waves for Churubusco.
“The positive part is hard because I don’t think people really understand until you are around young kids every day, the impact this is having on them,” Paul said. “When you have kids who have worked their entire lives to get to the point we were last year and it just stops, mentally it is hard to explain why.”
Paul says that he, his coaching staff and players talk every day in practice about not taking a day for granted. It may be a cliche talk yearly in practices about how you never know when a season could be taken away from you, but with the Eagles having lived that very thing, the talk holds more gravity heading into the 2020-21 season.
It holds significant gravity for ‘Busco’s three senior returners Jackson Paul, Landen Jordan and Luke McClure. Chris Paul says that right now, the mental piece is much more important than the physical part because they have lived the backslide with COVID. He says the trio are certainly stepping up and pushing the young kids on the team.
Jackson Paul has become the face of the program heading into his fourth year as a varsity starter and lead guard, a position he inherited from brother Jalen. The duo has each brought Churubusco a sectional title, the only two in program history and both under the coaching tutelage of father Chris.
As an Outside the Huddle All-Area player, Paul averaged a team-best 19 points, 5.3 assists and 2.6 steals per game last year. His relevance and positioning in Churubusco’s offense is something that is never in question. The moments though are just as important for he and his father as a senior season means the the player/coach and son/father dynamic will meld a little more closely.
“You can’t pay me enough for what I have been able to do. To be on a sideline with Jalen for a year and now Jackson going on four years, it has been more than I could ever ask for,” Chris Paul said. “Yeah, we’ve had some success and that has helped, but just being able to go through things together – to be able to talk about practice, to be able to talk about what he thinks he needs to do, to teach him how to be a leader, how to handle adversity and game plan together – it breaks my heart that I am talking about the last go around.”
Jordan came in mid-season for the Eagles last year, missing six games after a transfer. During that time, Churubusco was just 2-4 but would only lose two more times the rest of the season. Those numbers are a keen indication of how much his size and athleticism play a role for the Eagles. Jordan went on to average 15.6 points, 12.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. But his growth on the court, including mentally, is where Chris Paul saw the most enticing growth, even if some area skeptics thought Jordan lacked in that area.
“Last year, when he was ready to go, that was his first true varsity experience. And people thought he should just come in and be mature and handle everything; well this is his first go around. So yeah there were some ups and downs early, but as the year went on he understood rotations and work hard all of the way through things,” Paul said. “He is an emotional kid and I don’t want him to not show emotion, that is how we play, but he controls so much better. From a basketball standpoint, he has worked hard on his jump shot, he is a better outside shooter, he has better post moves now but the most important thing is he understands our system.”
Turning guards and wings loose defensively has put Jordan in a position to play under the basket and alter shots, get a rebound and throw the ball down the court to get a long pass into transition. Paul says that Jordan has embraced the system that the coach has created and flourished.
The final returning piece is McClure, who has started alongside Jackson Paul since their freshman season together. McClure averaged 9.2 points and 2.6 steals per game but was truly a glue guy. His combination with Jackson Paul has changed a lot of things defensively at the top of the key. It has allowed McClure to figure out often how he can get out ahead in transition by outracing people up the floor and get easy layups. He also is capable of hitting the big shots, where he hit 41 percent from three-point range.
“I don’t ever want to take Luke off the floor. He is nonstop,” Chris Paul said. “Chaos is a perfect word. And sometimes we get people say ‘they are just out of control’ and no, it is controlled chaos, guys know where they are supposed to be. Luke is the key there.”
Now Churubusco will have to meld in new players around its top three. According to Paul, that will kind of start with three freshmen in Andrew Pliett, Aiden White and Gavin Huelsenbeck. It is a call back, Paul says, to when Jackson Paul and Luke McClure were part of a freshman class with three varsity starters.
Those three will all have roles to fill, especially as the ball is worked in the half-court. With a focus being to get the ball to Jordan on the block, most defenses have a choice to make. They can either let Jordan go one on one, a likely basket for the big man, or they can collapse, which at times will leave the freshmen open to make a play.
“Its interesting, because it is almost like three years later, the cycle begins again,” Paul said. “These freshman are going to be thrown into the fire but they also have three guys who care going to control everything so I don’t have to ask them to do everything, they can learn.”
They will get to learn positionally with Pliett as a point guard able to shadow Jackson Paul, White as an off guard to follow McClure and Huelsenbeck as a post to learn from Jordan.
Have you seen what this top group can do while playing at a high level? Coach Chris Paul is right when he says that his three returners are a perfect mesh of skill and between the three of them, they cover most of the principles you need on the floor at once.
The Huntington University commit duo of Jackson Paul and Landen Jordan is a towering one, both literally and figuratively. This is a team that beat Westview twice, Central Noble twice and came an eyelash away from a win over an SAC team in Snider a year ago. The roster is different, but the aggression and game planning remains the same.
Churubusco is dangerous every night.
WHY NO HIGHER?
The loss of so many critical players, frontline and role guys, hampers the Eagles depth. Their JV team last season was small in numbers and stature so they will be left relying on the aforementioned freshmen quite a bit. Until we see how those guys can step up, it is hard to push the Eagles into our top 5 or even as our top-rated NECC team.
January 29 at Central Noble
Could there really be another? These two teams have established quite the rivalry the last couple of years, peaking last year with three fantastic battles that were determined by a total of 20 points. Churubusco took two of those, winning in the regular season and sectional final after CN had beaten it in the NECC Tournament.
Gear up for three more this year, with this being a likely second meeting between the teams. These games are high energy, high octane, high drama. You name it and these guys go at each other in every way possible. The path to a NECC regular season title goes through each other and both teams will want this one bad.
Luke McClure, senior
The top two, as most see it, for Churubusco are going to do as expected. McClure’s expectations are the ones who are going to rise. He is going to have to do some of what 2020 graduate Hunter Perlich did and mix in his own form of intensity too. McClure is key, a glue guy that can mesh together a returning core and a lot of freshmen.
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