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UL boys not going to sneak up on anyone

MORRISTOWN — When he looks back at the 2019-20 season, Zach Delman thinks his Union Local boys squad may have snuck up on some people.

After finishing 17-7 and returning a solid nucleus of players, Delman realizes that the Jets aren’t going to be able to take the same approach. And he’s OK with that, too.

“We’ve been talking about (not being able to sneak up on people),” Delman said. “We’re not an underdog anymore. There may have been some people who we caught by surprise, but now the script is flipped. I feel like there are teams that are circling us on their schedule and want a chance to take us out.”

With that mindset, Delman has made sure his approach this preseason has followed that to help prepare his team for what lies ahead.

“We’re not putting pressure on the guys, but these guys are expected to play well,” Delman said. “We’re excited about this season.”

Like all other teams across the valley, state and country, the Jets have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic as best as they possibly could. There were very few summer workouts and the preseason has been cut short because Union Local shifted to remote learning in early November, leading to a shutdown of winter sports practices until just this past Monday for the boys.

“With losing the summer, it’s a good thing we have an experienced bunch of guys back,” Delman said. “We had several events scheduled in the summer and it stunk to lose that time together, but having this group where we kind of know how the pieces fit is a good thing.”

Similar to how football went down, the Jets are expecting the schedule to be evolving from what they originally planned on.

“We told the kids we have to be ready for anything,” Delman said. “We’re hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. There’s a definite possibility that we may have to cancel, postpone or will change some games. We’ll do whatever we have to do to play as long and as much as we can.”

Assuming the Jets get to the court, Delman believes this team will follow the path of those that came before it. They’ll shoot plenty of 3-pointers and will get after teams in both the half and full court on defense.

“We hung our hat on shooting and our defense last year and the majority of those kids are back,” Delman said. “We’re going to have one of the bigger teams we’ve had in a while with three to four kids on the floor who are 6-2 to 6-4. We’re not as big as the team that went to the regional, but it’s the biggest team we’ve had since then.”

Leading the way for the Jets is senior Luke Merritt (6-0). One of the area and state’s premier 3-point shooters, he knocked down 93 treys last season. He shot 40 percent from behind the arc en route to averaging upwards of 17 points a game.

“We knew Luke was going to be a good one and he demonstrated it all of last season,” Delman said. “He’s not just out there chucking 3s either. He shoots it at a high clip.”

Senior Nathan Meyer (5-10) is a returning starter who is coming off a season in which he averaged 10.3 points per game. He’s also an adept rebounder and Delman pointed out he took 25 charges last season.

“Nate is a high IQ basketball player,” Delman said. “He’s the glue guy you need to be successful.”

Senior Zach Bateman (6-2) made the most of his first season as a starter. A versatile player who can go inside and outside, Bateman averaged just under 10 points a game. He was an 80% foul shooter, passed out two assists and four rebounds. Plus, he draws the assignment of guarding the opposition’s best player.

Senior Andrew Martin (6-3) transitions to a starting role and will serve as the Jets center. He averaged nine points a game off the bench.

“Andrew’s a dual-threat kind of guy,” Delman said. “He can really step out and shoot it well. He was good enough to start last year, but he really accepted and handled his role well.”

One area where the Jets are green is at the point-guard spot. Sophomore Beezer Porter (5-9) who saw some varsity action last winter is expected to take over that job.

He’s been pushed in practice by senior Liam Vinskovich (6-4), who will see minutes.

Off the bench for the Jets, sophomore D.J. Butts (6-3) is expected to play a bigger role. Delman is also high on 6-5 sophomore Jared Miller. Junior Elijah Butterworth (6-0) has altered his body and developed his shot in the offseason, according to his head coach.

Sophomores Tre Rex (6-4), Carter Blake (6-1) and senior Jonathan Porter (5-10) could also get minutes off the bench.

“We’re going to dress 12 and we feel good about all of those guys,” Delman said.

Ticketed for jayvee duty are juniors Gavin Loy (5-8), Matt Grob (5-9), sophomores Hayden McCrate (5-10), Preston Curry (6-2), freshmen Gannon Kerns (5-10) and MJ Palko (5-6).

Graduation claimed starters Hunter McCort and Matt Bateman as well as contributors Luke McDiffitt and Jared Reitter.

Delman’s coaching staff returns intact. Working at the varsity level are Vaughn Butler, Jimmy Hess, Doug Butts and Dustin Roe.

At the junior high level, Eric Kerns (8th) along with Elijah Baker and Kaleb McDiffitt are coaching.

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