High school was never like this for Eastwood grad Jon Juergens.
Back then, the 6-foot-6 Juergens could mostly roam the perimeter and let 6-8 teammate Clay Rolf take care of things in the paint. No so anymore.
Juergens, a senior at Otterbein University in Westerville, is the tallest player on the Cardinals’ roster. Second-year coach Todd Adrian has, out of necessity, asked Juergens to play the post position.
Juergens didn’t even play for Otterbein as a freshman and sophomore. He went to school there to study business administration, not to play basketball, although he did play intramural ball his first two years.
“Back then we had our old coach, Dick Reynolds, and he was here a long time,” Juergens said. “When I came to school, I wasn’t looking to play basketball. My sophomore year he came up to me and a couple of the guys said, ‘You’re pretty good. You should come out for the team,’ but I wasn’t really feeling it at the time.”
Juergens heard that the new coach, Adrian, was holding open tryouts prior to the 2012-13 season and thought to himself, “Why not give it a shot? What do I have to lose?”
He said it took him a while to get back in the swing of things, having not played organized basketball for more than two years. Adrian kept him on the squad and Juergens played in all 27 games, earning three starts. He scored 15 points against Muskingum in January 2013.
“Playing against high school guys and playing in college is a lot different,” Juergens said. “It’s physical and fast paced, and it was a big adjustment at first. After a while I got settled in and figured out I could play with these guys. It’s been a great experience and I’m glad I got to do it these two years.”
Through Feb. 17 the Cardinals were 4-19 and 3-13 in the Ohio Athletic Conference after a 69-56 loss to Capital last Saturday. Juergens went 0-for-1 from the field in 22 minutes and had six rebounds, one steal and one turnover.
Adrian said this year’s squad has a few players with minimal college basketball experience, and losing other players to injuries (concussion, broken jaw) hasn’t helped.
“This whole year was about developing our team and getting better,” Adrian said. “We have had quite a few injuries. About a month ago I thought our guys started to get it, and the game slowed down and we began to figure out what was going on at both ends of the court. We have learned how to compete, now we just have to learn how to win.”
The Cardinals are doing so with the 205-pound Juergens manning the paint. Adrian and Juergens both admit that Juergens is playing out of position, but he’s doing what’s best for the team.
Juergens has started in 19 of 23 games and is averaging 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in 19.3 minutes a game. He has nine blocks, six assists and seven steals and is shooting 53 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from the free throw line.
“We’ve had to have him play the post position and it’s tough for him battling with big, strong kids from the OAC,” Adrian said. “He spends a lot of energy rebounding for us. He is our tallest kid and he’s playing out of position, but he’s done a great job and I’m really happy with him and his acceptance to help our team. He’s a great kid, a hard worker. He goes in the post and bangs with the big boys and he never complains. He’s really improved a lot.”
Juergens, 21, who is set to graduate in May, said he often feels like he’s in a wrestling match during games.
“These guys are all my height and sometimes outweigh me by 30-40 pounds,” he said. “It’s been hard. I can’t guard them one-on-one a lot of times and we’ve had to double-team in the post. That’s been one of our biggest issues defensively. You can’t take any possessions off. When you do, that’s when you get scored on.”
Juergens said he refuses to complain to the coaches or teammates. It’s just not his nature, something he learned from his father, Jim, and his grandfather, Curt. Jim Juergens still holds the high jump record (6-9) at Eastwood.
“My dad and my grandpa were good basketball players in their respective days and they taught me to never make excuses and just give it your all, no matter what,” Juergens said. “That’s something I’ve always kept close to me. I might not be as good as they were back in the day, but I try to live up to their expectations. I always keep that in the back of my head, and that just makes me want to play harder.”