RR's Kroeplin, DL's Mertens are N.D. Class A First Team All-StatersBoth seniors make the first team after being second-team selections last year.
By: Steve Thomas, Bismarck Tribune, WDAZ
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Guards, guards, everywhere guards. Frontcourt players took a back seat when the 2013 Class A boys all-state basketball team was selected.
As chosen by the state Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, the first team consists of three pure guards and three rovers.
A.J. Jacobson of state champion Fargo Shanley is the focal point of the team. He won a triple crown of sorts by winning a state championship, earning the Class A senior athlete award and claiming Mr. Basketball honors.
Along the way, he broke the unofficial Class A career scoring record with 2,002 points. He averaged 26.4 points, 12.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists as a senior and scored 27 points in the Deacons' 73-54 win over Bismarck in the state title game.
In addition, he grabbed 12 rebounds and assisted on six baskets against Bismarck. For the season he averaged 2.6 steals and 2.5 blocked shots. He'll attend North Dakota State next fall.
Jacobson's first-team all-state teammates are Mac Kroeplin of Grand Forks Red River, Erron Collins of Mandan, Nate Mertens of Devils Lake, Tanner Kretchman of Fargo Davies and Ben Weisbeck of St. Mary's. Jacobson returns to the first team. Weisbeck, Kroeplin and Mertens were second-team picks last season.
Kroeplin, Collins and Mertens were Mr. Basketball finalists.
Weisbeck and Kretchman, who tied for the fifth spot, are juniors. They're the only underclassmen on the first team.
Shanley coach Shane Alderman said the 6-foot-6 Jacobson blended talent, skill and leadership into a well-balanced package. So much so that he could play differing games on successive nights to fit varying opponents.
"He's just a super defender, he handles the ball well and passes the ball well. ... He's just so well-rounded he can do anything you need him to do," Alderman said.
Alderman said after finishing second last season, Jacobson made it a mission to win a state title.
"As good a player as he is, he knew he'd require his teammates to get to the level he wanted to reach team-wise," the coach said. "He was well-respected by his teammates, and in turn he respected them and knew they had an equal part in achieving the goals of this team."
Kroeplin, a 6-2 senior guard, averaged 19.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists for Red River, fifth in the state. He sank 52 3-pointers with 45.6 percent efficiency.
"The thing about Mac is he did a little bit of everything for us. He was a guard, a post and even a point guard at times," Red River coach Jason Gregory said. "... He's such a competitor. We always got his best effort — whatever it took for the team to be successful."
"There were games where he'd carry us on his back. He'd get double- and triple-teamed and find the open guy," Gregory added.
Collins, a 5-11 senior point guard, scored at an 18.7 pace. He averaged 6.0 rebounds, 3-0 assists and 2.6 steals while leading the team in 3-pointers. He led Mandan to the state tournament, the Braves' fifth straight trip to the final eight.
Mandan coach Jason Horner said Collins provided the lift that enabled the Braves to qualify, a final 10-14 record notwithstanding.
Collins, who has committed to South Dakota Mines, was a four-year varsity player and three-year starter.
"He gave us leadership and maturity on the floor ... and he wasn't scared to lead and challenge his teammates, which is really hard for a high school player to do," Horner said. "... That is a big reason we improved throughout the year."
Horner said Collins' intangibles are immense.
"His attitude and demeanor are very catchy. He brings an energy to practice that makes you want to be there and makes the other players work hard. He wants to be there, he's grateful to be in the gym and it's contagious," Horner said.
Mertens, a 6-2 senior guard, led all Class A shooters with a 26.9 scoring average. Plus, he averaged 7.8 rebounds, 6-1 assists and 2.5 steals for the Firebirds, who finished 8-14.
A four-year varsity player and a three-year starter, Mertens broke the school's career scoring record, previously held by his cousin, Travis Mertens. Nate upped the ante from 1,400 to 1,544.
Devils Lake coach Derek Gathman said there's a lot more to Mertens than offense.
"On both sides of the ball he was our go-to guy. ... He always guarded the best player. He was our best defensive player and best offensive player, no doubt about it," Gathman said.
Gathman said Mertens clearly had improved his game this season.
"His decision-making and crashing the boards are the two big things I saw," the coach said. "He shot 47 percent this year. Last year it was 39 percent."
Mertens nearly doubled his rebounding average from 4.2 to 7.8.
Kretchman, a 5-11 junior guard, scored at a 24.2 pace, averaged 4.5 assists and cashed in on 86 3-pointers. He shot 47.3 percent from beyond the arc.
"He's one of the better pure shooters I've seen in North Dakota for a long time," Bart Manson, the Davies coach, said. "... He shot 47.3 percent from the 3-point line and it's not as though he isn't being guarded every night. He's able to get his shot off very quickly and very accurately."
Manson, who led the Eagles to third place in the state tournament, said Kretchman benefited from other scorers in the Davies lineup. Still, Kretchman got special treatment from most teams.
"Teams tried to lock him up so once he got rid of the ball he wouldn't get it back," the coach said. "... He does other things, too. He led the team in assists."
Weisbeck, a 6-1 junior guard, displayed 51.4 percent field goal accuracy while averaging 18 points per game. He pulled down 5.3 rebounds and added 2.3 assists for the Saints, who placed sixth at state.
Although Weisbeck's scoring average was a virtual carbon copy of last year's, St. Mary's coach Joe Mueller said he was a more valuable player as a junior.
"I think he rounded out his game a little bit on both ends of the floor," Mueller said. "He was a better rebounder and defender this year. We wanted him to make his teammates better.
"Whatever it would take to win a game, he'd do it for us," Mueller added. "He had a lot of good players around him, so he didn't have to score 25 points for us."
The second team consists of 6-2 junior forward Patrick Strom of Shanley, 6-6 junior post Tyler Rudolph of Century, 6-1 junior guard Darius Sparks of St. Mary's, 6-5 senior forward Jordan Krieg of Dickinson and 6-4 senior forward Chase Carpenter of Valley City.
Strom averaged 19.7 points and connected for 90 3-pointers, displaying 40.7 percent accuracy from outside the arc. His presence gave Jacobson elbow room to work his magic.
Rudolph, Century's lone returning starter, led the team with a 13.3-point scoring average. He shot 53.4 percent from the floor, averaged 8.8 rebounds and blocked 30 shots en route to a fourth-place state tournament finish.
Sparks provided a long-range force for St. Mary's, swishing 51 3-pointers with 42.1 accuracy. He averaged 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
Krieg gave Dickinson a strong presence inside, scoring at a 17.5 clip and averaging 8-8 rebounds. The Midgets went 11-11 on the season.
Carpenter scored at a 22.7 pace and averaged 10.8 rebounds for Valley City, which lost an East Region play-in game and finished 5-15.