Noie: Marian's Jaden Ivey chases his basketball dream

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

MISHAWAKA — If the game didn’t matter so much, didn’t grab hold of him at an early age and refuse to let go, it would have been easy for Marian High School junior Jaden Ivey to dismiss the disappointment and detach from it all.

He couldn’t, no matter how many times he tried convincing himself on that bus ride back from last season’s last loss to eventual state champion Culver Academy in the Class 3A sectional championship.

Dejection dominated Ivey’s thoughts that night after a game where he scored seven points but didn’t do enough to help the Knights get over that postseason hump. He was good when great was required. That ate at him. Right after the game, in the locker room and on the bus back from Washington. Still bothered him once at Marian.

“We came back and I was thinking, why am I so upset?” Ivey remembered earlier this week. “I get to live another day and play a game that I love.”

But…

“I was heartbroken.”

While the Marian coaches and managers and teammates headed home that first Saturday in March, Ivey acted as if it was the first Saturday in November. He grabbed a ball and marched to the court. Up and down he went. Dribbling. Stopping. Shooting. Rebounding. Back and forth. Up and down. He put up a dozen shots. Then a dozen more. A dozen after that. When he was through, he had squeezed off close to 100 shots.

How many he made didn’t matter. He felt better about his game. About life.

“I couldn’t live with myself after that game,” he said. “I thought about how I can’t play like that, so I got in the gym and did what I needed to do.

“When I can’t live with myself, basketball’s always my outlet.”

The gym’s always been a haven, the one place Ivey can go and get away. Work. Think. Play. Sometimes it’s at Marian, where he’s the top player (25.8 ppg., 2.0 rpg., 1.1 apg., 2.4 spg., 28.7 mpg.) on the state’s top-ranked Class 3A team. He scored a game-high 25 points as the Knights improved to 10-0, 5-0 in the Northern Indiana Conference with Tuesday’s 60-41 victory over rival South Bend Saint Joseph.

Sometimes it’s at Purcell Pavilion, where Ivey’s mother, Niele, is an assistant coach for the top-ranked Notre Dame women’s basketball team. Sometimes, before the change-over from student center to practice facility, it’s at Rolfs Hall, where Ivey has spent summers running pickup with the Irish men’s team. Other times, it’s the Joyce Center’s North Dome or the outdoor courts behind the bookstore.

If there was a court somewhere in town, Ivey is on it working on his game. Getting it better to the point where Division I college coaches would find their way to the small, private school on Mishawaka’s south side.

On Tuesday, Irish coach Mike Brey and assistant Ryan Ayers were in the stands to watch Ivey play. Brey also was there earlier this season when Marian got some regular-season revenge on Culver Academy, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit in a 39-38 win. Purdue’s Matt Painter also has traversed Dragoon Trail. Ditto Butler’s Lavell Jordan.

All have come to scout the 6-foot-4, 165-pound Ivey and his 6-7 wingspan (though it seems a lot longer at the prep level) as he grows his game to the point where the current three-star prospect is becoming a terrific talent in the 2020 recruiting class.

“It’s an amazing feeling to know that you’re getting looked at and they want you to play for their universities,” Ivey said.

Coming of age

Ivey will play big-time college basketball. The question is — where? Will he follow in the footsteps of his parents (his father, Javin Hunter, was a standout wide receiver) and attend Notre Dame? Will he forge his own path at Butler or Purdue? The Boilermakers were first to offer Ivey after an elite camp in West Lafayette in August. It moved him to tears. What had long been a dream was becoming reality.

“That’s when everything changed,” Ivey said. “I was shocked. That’s when I knew that I was pretty good.”

Brey knew it too. In November, Ivey was on the Rolfs Hall practice court when Brey arrived for a practice and also offered a scholarship. The 2020 recruiting class is critical to help the Irish rebuild a roster that’s currently broken. Brey let it be known that Ivey was the first player from said class to receive an offer. That’s how much he means to him. To the Irish.

Ivey called his mom soon after. That time, it was her turn for tears.

“It was a great moment,” he said. “I can’t believe that they would have interest in me. I was in shock.”

Seeing that who’s-who of college coaches chatting up Marian coach Robb Berger at practices, then seeing them in the stands at his game isn’t a shock to Ivey. It never really has been. He’s been around his share of big-time college basketball with both Irish programs. He’s been around the Atlantic Coast Conference and before that, the Big East. He’s been around top-tier talent in the men’s and women’s college games for so long that he doesn’t get caught up in any of it.

It’s all so normal.

“His head’s not in the clouds when these things happen,” Berger said. “He’s playing in the now right now. That makes him pretty dangerous and makes our team pretty good.”

Ivey’s in no hurry to choose a college. Signing day’s still 10 months away. He’ll ride out the process while concentrating on what really matters — chasing an NIC regular-season championship and making a run in the Class 3A state tournament. That tops Ivey’s priority list today and tomorrow, next week and the next few months.

Being undefeated and No. 1? Not even that matters. Not now.

“Who wouldn’t be happy to be No. 1 in the state? Ivey said. “That’s great, but we want to get to state and win state. The program’s never won state before. We want to be that team.”

To be that team, Marian’s likely going to meet up somewhere along the state way again with Culver Academy, which features another junior, swingman Trey Galloway, also high on the Irish recruiting wish list. In the teams’ first meeting last month, Ivey started slowly, but shook that sluggishness to score 19 points. Along the way, he showed how far his game has come.

Freshman year, Ivey was in awe of everything. He scored 44 varsity points that season. He was in over his head. But he kept working. He added range to his perimeter shot and got stronger to help him finish in traffic. He jumped his scoring average to 12.6 a game and earned honorable mention all-league last season. He’s headed toward first team recognition this season. There might not be five area players better than No. 13.

As his overall game became better, Ivey stopped pressing and just played. He has a quiet confidence, a switch that flipped last year when former teammate Mike Hemingway offered Ivey some simple advice.

“Get in your bag.”

Huh?

Translation — do what you do and be confident about it. So Ivey did and is. He got in his bag and stayed in it. He’s still in it.

“It’s been amazing,” Berger said. “He wants to take the big shot. He wants to make the big play.”

Ivey also wants to see how far basketball can take him at Marian, then in college and beyond. He’s seen the world thanks to his mom’s life in basketball. Now he wants to see it because of another life in basketball. His life.

“I’m thankful to play this game,” Ivey said. “You work on your craft and let it happen, it can take you so many places.”

It’s happening.

Marian’s junior guard Jaden Ivey dunks during the Marian vs. Saint Joseph boys basketball game Tuesday at Marian High School.
Marian’s Jaden Ivey dunks Tuesday night against Saint Joseph at Marian High School.