The formula for the Ironwood Eagles boys basketball team to make a run at a repeat 5A championship is relatively “Black” and “White.”
Senior captain duo Bailon Black and JJ White are the two returning starters and top scorers from the 2019-20 season. Both can score from inside and outside the paint, and are capable defenders with length and quick feet.
But most importantly, the pair provide a window into past success.
Immediately following the cutting of the nets in a final victory over Millennium to cap the team’s best season, coach Jordan Augustine said he was unsure how the team would fare without its senior class. He planned to re-establish Ironwood’s winning culture.
However, he has a new core of talented but inexperienced players at the varsity level. He is utilizing Black and White to show the new guys what it’s like to be a top team.
“We’re so young,” Augustine said. “Half our team are sophomores or guys who didn’t play a ton of minutes last year. Their leadership is understanding what it takes to win a state championship. It means so much.”
The pair has played together since the seventh grade. On the court, their hard-earned camaraderie is evident. Either player appears just as comfortable directing the offense in the half-court as running the lane on a fast break or simply letting the other dribble and make the correct play.
“It’s just a brotherhood from childhood,” Black said. “It’s been fun having someone to play against. That’s why we have so much chemistry and we can trust each other to do whatever we want.”
“It’s a good bond where you know you don’t have to think about what he’s going to do,” White added. “You know he’s going to do the right thing.”
Their roles changed this year. The two went from young, talented players who could make plays and let the vocal leadership come from the past seniors. Now, although neither is naturally loud and boastful, both have developed their own characteristics to help the team improve.
“He (JJ White) is pretty quiet and pretty reserved,” Augustine said. “When he decides to be a vocal leader, it’s always something the guys need to hear. He’s a three-year team captain for a reason.
“Bailon loves the moment. Outside the court, he’s much less of the talker or a loud guy. Between the lines, the world slows down for him and he makes good decisions.”
The new core came with growing pains. Without the summer or fall preseason schedule, and a full slate of practices to come together, the Eagles were admittedly sloppy to start. Players had to learn their new responsibilities as starters.
“We came in thinking everyone knew what to do already,” White said. “It wasn’t because everyone was around before.”
“We figured out that being a leader wasn’t as easy as we thought it was. It hit us in the mouth real quick and made us take a few steps back,” Black added.
By the time the Eagles started their season, the senior duo was clicking and found success early on. Ironwood had four wins in as many games to open the 2021 campaign.
Beside Black and White, Ironwood had contributions from seniors Steinar Christianson and Alex Elam, with scoring threats from younger players, such as 6-foot-6 junior Ringo Aguek and 6-foot-5 sophomore Jordan Kuac. The captains still drive the car, though.
Augustine said the team is just scratching the surface of what it can do. For now, an undefeated record with three region victories is a good start. He has his seniors to thank.
“They’re such tremendous leaders and tremendous guys,” Augustine said. “They’ve made me look smart. And the reality is they’ve probably made us look 100 times better than we actually are at the moment because of how skilled they are.”