March 13, 2014

Jennings enjoy a father/daughter dance to Final Four

by Beau Wicker

— While Whitney Jennings leading Logansport to a Final Four berth was a first in program history, it was not a first in her family’s history.

Her father, Doug Jennings, led the Argos boys team to the Final Four back in the single-class basketball days in 1979.

“He has always told stories about that so it was neat to do that with my team,” Whitney said.

Whitney led the Lady Berries to their first-ever regional championship this season. They defeated Fort Wayne Carroll 64-58 and Fishers 77-61 to win the Class 4A Kokomo Regional title. They were defeated by Mishawaka Penn 44-41 at the Crown Point Northern Semistate. Penn lost to the Damon Bailey-coached Bedford North Lawrence Stars 51-41 in the state title game.

Logansport, with an enrollment of around 1,250, competes in Class 4A, the largest class in the state. Thus, the Berries sometimes competed against schools twice their size (Fishers), three times their size (Penn) and four times their size (Carmel) this season.

While it may not compare to what Argos went up against during its Final Four run in 1979, Logansport’s achievement is about as close as it gets in class sports other than perhaps a public school knocking off a heavily favored private school in the small-school state tournaments.

Argos remains one of the smallest schools in the state with an enrollment around 200, and its Final Four run in ‘79 conjured up memories of the Milan Miracle.

“At Logansport we play in 4A, we’re a small 4A, but it’s not comparable to what Argos did,” Whitney said.

The Berries repeated their sectional title this season in a field that included possible regional and semistate opponents back in the single-class days, Kokomo, Marion, Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon.

Last season the Berries advanced to the regional final for the first time since class sports were enacted in the 1998 season but lost to Fort Wayne South Side.

This season they weren’t going to be denied as Jennings had 41 points against a Fishers team that entered allowing just 38.5 ppg for the season. Fishers knocked off regional favorite Fort Wayne Homestead 61-45 in the morning semifinal.

Similar to the single-class basketball days, when the Berries did win the regional title it set off a state championship-type of celebration.

“Winning regionals was definitely awesome,” Whitney said. “Coming into the season we knew it would be a huge, huge challenge for us to do that and that we would definitely be the underdog. It was just amazing to win that. When I gave Kennedy [Curl] a hug it just all sunk in and it was just great to celebrate something that we had all worked so hard for.”

Doug has been an assistant coach for the team the last 10 years under Jerry Hoover. Whitney said that her father has put in countless hours scouting and watching film on opponents over the years.

Doug certainly enjoyed this year’s semistate run. The Berries went 24-3 overall and completed their third straight perfect season in North Central Conference play despite having three starters that were first-year fulltime varsity players.

“It was an unbelievable year for the girls,” Doug said. “Everybody meshed and the chemistry was good. They all did what the coaches wanted them to do. It turned out we had a lot closer games this year than we did last year when we had all of those blowouts. I think those close games helped us get used to playing in tighter games which helped us in the tournament.”

Despite being the focal point of every opposing defense — facing everything from a hybrid 3-2 zone, box-and-one and halfcourt and fullcourt double teams — Whitney put up astronomical numbers her senior season, averaging 32.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 5.1 steals per game. The Iowa recruit finished her stellar high school career with 2,641 points, 699 assists, 499 rebounds and 403 steals.

Doug remains the all-time leading scorer at Argos with 1,522 points. Argos went 74-7 during his three-year varsity career. His teams won three straight sectional titles — including the first one in program history — and had two undefeated regular seasons in his junior and senior seasons. The Dragons made their Final Four run his junior season. They were ranked No. 3 in the state his senior season. The Dragons still hold a state record of having a 76-game regular-season winning streak.

The 1979 Argos team had to get past Plymouth during Scott Skiles’ freshman season to win a sectional title. They also had to get past Kent Adams’ Bremen squad as well. Kent later became Doug’s brother-in-law when Doug married Carol.

The Dragons had to get past a tough Manchester squad in the regional semifinal before avenging a loss the previous season to a nationally ranked Elkhart Central squad that featured a front line of 6-11, 6-8 and 6-5 players en route to winning a regional title.

When describing the game, Doug could have been talking about the Lady Berries’ regional title win over Fishers.

“We shot great. We shot 70-some percent from the field, got the lead and spread the floor and made them chase us and got a bunch of layups,” he said. “We had a great game plan.”

At the Fort Wayne Semistate, Mark Malone made two free throws with seven seconds left to give Argos a 66-64 win over Fort Wayne Harding and 1980 Mr. Basketball Jim Master, who went on to play at Kentucky and was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks.

In the semistate final, Bill O’Dell had a buzzer-beating putback to lift the Dragons to an 84-83 win over tradition-rich Marion.

Doug Jennings and Bill O’Dell each averaged 17 ppg for the Dragons who took a 28-0 record to the Final Four in Indianapolis, where Pat Skaggs’ Anderson Indians team ended the Dragons’ pursuit of a state title at Market Square Arena.

Anderson was then defeated by Ray McCallum’s Muncie Central Bearcats in the state championship game.

Doug was named to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame’s Silver Anniversary team in 2005.

Doug recalled his 1979 Argos team.

“We weren’t very big. The O’Dells were 6-3. I was 6-1 and skinny at the time. We had three guards that were 5-8, 5-9. Everybody could shoot and handle the ball. We brought a 6-5 sophomore off the bench and a 6-1, 6-2 player off the bench. We weren’t big but we were a fundamentally sound basketball team,” he said. “We were well coached. We had played together since we were little. We all played soccer so we were in great shape. Condition-wise, we were the best conditioned team. Some said we could have won a cross country state title if we had ran cross country we were in that good of condition.

“We could press and we changed defenses a lot. We were smart.”

While Argos is a town with a population around 1,700, the Dragons had a following that was as large as any school’s during their Final Four run, Doug said, adding that fans from other Marshall County schools and other sectional opponents such as Plymouth and Bremen continued to follow Argos during its waltz through the tournament.

“We easily matched all the other big schools. Everyone wore gold shirts and we had just as many fans,” Doug recalled.

Doug went on to play at Indiana Central — now the University of Indianapolis — where he was a starting guard for four seasons. His 1,611 points has him 11th on the U. of I. scoring list.

Doug, like his daughter is now, was known as a total, complete player. And of course he has played a large role in his daughter’s success.

“Ever since I was little I was always at the gym and practicing while he was coaching the team,” Whitney said. “I always remember playing a lot whether it was at the Y or at the church gym growing up. I was always in the gym with a ball in my hand. I picked up the game pretty easily and he always encouraged me to work hard. He would run me through a lot of drills and I always thought they were fun. A lot of people might not think that was fun, but I did.

“He has played a huge role in my basketball career.”