This small-school player might become Michigan's all-time leading scorer

Photo: Rich Prepetit/Special to The Free Press

This small-school player might become Michigan's all-time leading scorer

Boys Basketball

This small-school player might become Michigan's all-time leading scorer

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MARCELLUS. — Dylan Jergens doesn’t bother putting on his jacket as he walks out of the house on a frigid Saturday morning in February. He tiptoes around the snow on the ground as he makes his way across the driveway to a massive pole barn that his dad built and turned into an indoor basketball court. They call it The Barn.

This is where he is most at home. On a court with a ball in his hands.

“It’s been my favorite sport since I was really young,” he said between shooting jump shots. “My older brothers always played basketball and they were always out here playing and I always wanted to do what they did.”

Dylan Jergens, a senior at Howardsville Christian, entered last week No. 3 on the MHSAA career scoring list with 2,628 career points. He is averaging 40.9 points per game heading into district play this week. (Photo11: Rich Prepetit/Special to The Free Press)

If you’ve never heard of Dylan Jergens, you aren’t alone.

The 6-foot-1 guard plays at Howardsville Christian in Marcellus, which is 25 miles southeast of Kalamazoo.

“We only have 32 kids in the whole school,” he said. “Almost all the boys play on the basketball team.”

Jergens, who will head to Central Michigan as a preferred walk-on, is averaging 40.6 points per game and is making a run at becoming the state’s all-time leading scorer. In the Wyoming Lee Holiday Tournament in December, he scored 59 and 50 points in back-to-back games.

Top of the mountain

Jay Smith is a high school legend.

If you’ve ever looked at the list of all-time scorer’s in Michigan high school history, you know his name.

Smith scored 2,841 points at Mio Au Sable High School from 1976-79 and his record really has never been challenged. But Jergens is going to give it a shot.

After scoring 47 points against Covert on Feb. 19, Jergens moved into No. 3 on the MHSAA list, leapfrogging Tory Jackson (Saginaw Buena Vista) and Chris Hass (Pellston). He ended the regular season with 2,628 career points, which means he’ll need to play deep into the state tournament to have a shot at the record.

Smith, now the basketball coach at Kalamazoo College, is rooting for Jergens.

“I think he’s got a chance,” Smith said. “Records are made to be broken. Forty years is long enough. He deserves it. You don’t just become that good over night.”

When Smith was a senior at Mio, there were only five players who had reached the 2,000 point mark. Fennville’s Richie Jordan was No. 1 with 2,210 points.

“It wasn’t even about scoring for us,” Smith said. “It was trying to put Mio on the map. It was all about winning. It had nothing to do with reaching Richie Jordan’s record. It just sort of happened.”

Smith, who also coached at Central Michigan for nine years, didn’t know who held the mark until a reporter told him he was close.

“I think a Detroit Free Press guy, maybe Hal Schram, found out about (the record) and he had Richie call me from Florida. It was unique. Mio’s a small town. Kinda like Dylan at Howardsville. I’m sure there are kids near Howardsville wanting to be like Dylan Jergens.”

Family game

Tim and Tonya Jergens have their own basketball team and then some. They have raised seven children and most of them are basketball junkies.

There’s Justin, 24, Brandon, 21, Dylan, 18, Jason, 16, Nathan, 12, and Katelyn, 10. Henok Craft, an adopted son, is 23.

“I just like being around the game,” Dylan said. “My dad, being a coach, he’s always loved playing basketball and watching basketball on TV. Having a lot of brothers that play, too, kinda pushed me in that direction and to want to be the best and compete with them. Enjoying basketball with my family makes it fun.”

Dylan Jergens, a senior at Howardsville Christian, stands for the national anthem with his father and coach, Tim Jergens, before a game against the Kalamazoo Phoenix on Dec. 16, 2019. (Photo: Rich Prepetit/Special to The Free Press)

Tim Jergens, who is the head coach of the Howardsville Christian team, knew Dylan could play when he was dribbling circles around kids much older than him.

“When he was in second grade, he played on the fifth-sixth grade team,” he said. “You could tell then he was a little different. He was our second leading scorer on the team. He fit right in. He could play back then. He was dribbling around big kids and scoring no problem. He could just play. I don’t know how to explain it.”

The little team that could

Howardsville Christian might be small, but they play big.

The Eagles are 19-1 and ranked No. 5 in the Free Press’ Division 4 poll. Last year, they won a district and regional championship.

The starting lineup of David Cripps, Colton Fair, Reece Herschbach, Logan Cornwell and Jergens have only lost to Wyoming Potter’s House Christian.

Herschbach, a 6-foot-6, 265-pound center, said Jergens is a lot more than just a scorer, despite him shooting 42 percent from 3-point range this season with 78 3-pointers.

“It’s amazing to see him score the way he does,” said Herschbach, who is averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds. “He feeds us the ball. When we get open, he finds us. He’s got great court vision for how much he scores.”

Jason Jergens might be the best shooter on the team. The 5-foot-8 sophomore is averaging nine points per game and is shooting 44 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. He has 46 threes this season. Dylan is shooting 42 percent from long range and has 78 3-pointers.

Tim Jergens said it’s hard to be a dad and coach at the same time.

“I’ve tried to balance it the best I can, but it seems like I can’t make either side happy sometimes,” he said. “If I error too much and not give (Dylan) the opportunity, I have people in my ear saying ‘you’ve got to let him go. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.’ I even had a coach from an opposing team call me the next day saying ‘I didn’t know Dylan was going for the state scoring record. Why did you take him out in the fourth quarter?’”

Dylan has left a lot of opposing coaches shaking their heads.

“I think we had spurts of locking him up (defensively),” Kalamazoo Phoenix coach Justin Motley said after Jergens scored 41 on Feb. 16. “But anytime you lose a kid of that caliber on defense, it can be very dangerous. You can’t leave a guy like him wide open. He’s a very good player.”

Dylan Jergens, a senior at Howardsville Christian, drives past Deshawn Spencer of Kalamazoo Phoenix during a game on Dec. 16, 2019. Jergens, who is averaging 40.9 points per game, will be a preferred walk-on at Central Michigan in the fall. (Photo: Rich Prepetit/Special to The Free Press)

Becoming a Chippewa

Dylan Jergens is right handed, but he started shooting lefty after he broke his right hand during a scrimmage in early July. That meant that he couldn’t play with his travel team, Strictly Skills out of Mattawan, for most of the summer. But it didn’t deter Central Michigan from inviting him to play for the Chippewas as a walk-on. Coach Keno Davis and his assistant Jeff Smith have had their eye on Jergens for a couple of years.

“My sophomore year, I was playing in a basketball camp up there (in Mount Pleasant),” said Jergens, who said CMU plans to redshirt him. “It was the last game before lunch and we were on the main court. I remember Coach Davis was watching us. I think I had 30-something points. I guess they marked me down that day like ‘keep an eye out for this kid in the future.’ Earlier this season, Coach Smith came down to watch me workout. He said they had a preferred walk-on spot for me If I wanted it.”

Home is where the basketball is

Dylan and his brother Jason pick up a basketball in The Barn and begin to shoot jump shots. The sound of their dribbling echos in the high ceiling. Their dad watches from the sideline.

Tim Jergens said he wasn’t much of a basketball player in high school. But he instilled his love for the game, and a love for his Michigan State Spartans, into his kids. Dylan was pretty excited when he passed MSU greats Drew Neitzel and Magic Johnson on the all-time scorer’s list.

“I played at Mendon. I’m five-foot-nothing. I’m not even in their league,” Tim said of his sons. “Up until 10 years ago, I could still shoot and hang with them.”

The Jergens play pick-up ball on Sunday afternoons with the kids in the neighborhood. It’s days like that that Dylan doesn’t think about records and college.

“I’m just thankful that I’ve had a good career and that God’s blessed me with the ability to play,” he said.

Then he drains one last 3-pointer before heading back into the house.

MHSAA career scoring list

2,841 – Jay Smith, Mio (98 games/29.0 per game) (1976-79)

2,789 – Mark Brown, Hastings (81/34.4) (1982-85)

2,542 – Dylan Jergens, Howardsville Christian (88/28.8) (2015-19)

2,522 – Christopher Hass, Pellston (91/27.7) (2009-12)

2,518 – Tory Jackson, Saginaw Buena Vista (101/24.9) (1982-85)

2,490 – Mark Macon, Saginaw Buena Vista (104/23.9) (1984-87)

2,462 – Drew Neitzel, Wyoming Park (93/26.5) (2001-04)

2,449 – Matt Stuck, Manton (99/24.7) (1989-92)

2,448 – Marcus Taylor, Lansing Waverly (95/25.5) (1997-00)

2,421 – Marcus Matelski, Boyne Falls (86 games/28.2 ppg) (2013-16)

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