Jaylen Flemmons ended last year’s season on a scoring frenzy to help Columbus North finish on a four-game winning streak before an overtime loss to Shelbyville in the sectional semifinals.
The then-sophomore averaged 17.6 points over the final three games of last season, and it looked as if he would go into his junior year as one of the Bull Dogs’ top players, along with Division-l recruit Alex King and point guard Nathan VanDeventer.
“Jaylen adds so much to our team in a lot of different areas,” North coach Paul Ferguson said. “He provides some offensive punch, he’s an outstanding defender and a very underrated passer.”
Flemmons is a two-sport standout who also plays wide receiver for the Bull Dogs football team. He injured his groin in Week 3 while participating in drills during practice and was sidelined for four weeks. Flemmons reinjured his groin in the sectional final against Center Grove.
Flemmons was forced to rehab every day after his second injury and focused on strengthening the other muscles in his leg to limit the stress on his groin. While he was focusing on rehab, Ferguson and the rest of the North basketball team had to start the season without him.
The Bull Dogs found a way to open the season with a four-game winning streak. North won five of its first six games before the team started to run into trouble.
Already without Flemmons, and with King also having injury problems, the Bull Dogs went on a four-game losing streak. It looked as if they needed some type of lift going into the Terre Haute North game in jeopardy of losing five straight.
By that time Flemmons already had been practicing with the team for a little more than a week and was ready to make his season debut. The Patriots played what Ferguson thought was the team’s best game of the year to that point, and the Bull Dogs’ losing streak extended to five.
But something good came out of that game — the reemergence of Flemmons. He scored 15 points off 7-of-12 shooting from the field.
“I was really happy to be back there with the team and my teammates,” Flemmons said. “Once I was able to get back out there, they just welcomed me like I’ve been there all year. It just felt normal.”
Since then, North has won its past three three games, and Ferguson said Flemmons’ impact on the game goes much further than his scoring ability. He has averaged just over four points in the past three games, but his rebounding, defensive skills and court vision have helped the Bull Dogs on both sides of the ball.
Flemmons played some solid minutes off the bench to help North overcome Perry Meridian, grabbing six rebounds and dishing six assists.
“I feel like I bring more defense and rebounding, even if I’m not always scoring,” Flemmons said. “I pressure the other teams’ players really well so we can get some quick easy steals in transition to get some easy baskets.”
Flemmons believes he is getting close to playing at 100 percent but is still unable to play full games because of fatigue. The hardest part about getting back on the court for him was the conditioning. He often wakes up the morning after playing a game more sore than usual because he is just getting his body back into the rhythm of the sport.
Right now, Flemmons is focusing on getting as much practice with his jump shot as he can in hopes of getting it back to where it was toward the end of last season. Shooting jump shots by himself in the gym is a bit different than shooting in the game, so Flemmons is getting in as many game speed reps as he can.
“Sometimes you have somebody on the team come back from injury and the team is upset because you didn’t do some of the stuff you were doing last year,” Flemmons said. “Not our team — they’ve been really supportive and helping me along.”
With nine games left in the regular season, Ferguson said he is excited about having Flemmons back because he is a big part of what the Bull Dogs are doing. As excited as Ferguson is, he understands that Flemmons is still trying to get his legs under him and get back into basketball shape.
If Flemmons is able to replicate the type of play he did in the second half of last season, that would give the Bull Dogs a tremendous boost going in tournament time. Ferguson would love to have Flemmons playing his best basketball during the postseason and does not want to force him to play at a high level too quickly.
“I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him because his groin injury was pretty serious, and basketball is a lot of that side-to-side movement,” Ferguson said. “But we’re confident he is going to be a key player for us, and he’s already made a big contribution coming back.”
Name: Jaylen Flemmons
High school: Columbus North
Key stats: PPG: 7; Season high: 15