Marcus Jefferson was named the new boys basketball coach at E.C. Central earlier this week.
The school board made it official on Monday night.
In a place with more hoops history than any other town in the Region, this was a great call by the administration.
“I’m very excited to be going home,” Jefferson said in a brief conversation Friday. “This is where I want to be. This is a blessing from God. I’ve been fortunate to be at the right places at the right time. Basketball is very important here, but I’m about building academics and character for these kids.
“To me, that is the greatest blessing of all.”
Jefferson becomes only the fifth head coach in Central’s resume, a program that has won 15 sectional championships since Washington and Roosevelt came together in 1986. The expectations are high, like always. But this young man understands what being a head coach in East Chicago is all about.
He was a standout for the Cardinals in the late 1990s, before playing prep school ball at Notre Dame Prep his senior season. A high crime wave at that time sent him to the east coast. He played one year at Providence, then transferred to play three seasons at Iowa State. Yeah, the kid had serious game. He was way above the rim without a mini trampoline.
Jefferson was raised by a single mother, who worked swing shifts when he was a teenager. He understands where he was just at, and where he’s going.
“I’m a product of my environment,” Jefferson said. “If not for basketball, I probably would’ve been a statistic. I don’t wanna be coaching here for five years and seeing my former players standing on a corner.
“My message is simple. I’m stressing academics and character.”
Upon returning to the Region, Jefferson coached with Dave Milausnic for five years at Lake Central. He was a part of a program that advanced to the 2014 Class 4A state championship game, but Jefferson became the head coach at Roosevelt in 2013. It was another rebuilding situation for the young coach.
And it worked.
After the Panthers won a 2A sectional crown in 2017, the first sectional championship since 2009, Jefferson spoke to me about his role as a coach, teacher and father figure to his former players. Words like these can’t be monetized.
“I spoke life into these kids in the middle of the year,” Jefferson said. “They bought in. These guys truly sacrifice for each other, which we didn’t have before. Winning the sectional was especially memorable for me.”
Now, he’s heading home.
After a long postseason drought, the Cardinals are coming off two straight sectional championships under Pete Trgovich. But his sharp words about the officiating after a loss to Warsaw in the regional semifinal helped put East Chicago on the radar of the IHSAA and the state. The loss of Jermaine Couisnard to graduation will not be easy to fill.
I saw many E.C. games this past winter and I didn’t see a lot of great skill on the junior varsity team. Heard also the freshman team was way down. For the first time in my life, I didn’t walk into the John A. Baratto Center and have fans tell me to keep an eye on this freshman or that eighth-grader or the phenom that’s moving in.
This great program has to find a way to keep the talent at home. There might’ve been more East Chicago basketball players competing for other teams than playing at home.