Sabers do unique coaching dynamic work | High School Boys Basketball –

DEWITT — Before Central DeWitt High School basketball practice started last Friday, assistant coach George Pickup walked into the gym with a trophy.

It was the prize for the 2007 Sabers state quarterfinal team, a team of which Pickup was the head coach and only the third in program history to reach the state tournament.

“We want a bigger one, Gibby,” Pickup told senior guard Gibson McEwen.

Returning to the national stage for the first time in eight years, Central DeWitt begins his quest for the Class 3A championship at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday against top-seeded and second-seeded Decorah at Wells Fargo Arena.

Just like he did during Central DeWitt’s 18-6 campaign, Pickup will sit in a chair at the end of the bench to give encouragement and instructions.

“He’s almost like a father figure to a lot of us,” McEwen said. “He’s the guy who comes up to you after the game and gives you a hug and tells you good work. He’s also the guy who yells at you during the game and lets you know what you did wrong. “

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The Sabers have three people on their team with head coaching experience — head coach Marty Marshall, assistant Carl Small and Pickup. All three graduated from Maquoketa, Small and Pickup playing for the late Bill Fleming.

Marshall is the Delwood Community Schools Principal and Pickup is the Central DeWitt Middle and High School Principal.

“They’re very professional with a lot of basketball experience and a lot of leadership experience,” junior Matthew Watters said. “I learned so much from them, not just basketball, but things about life.”

When Marshall took the basketball job last summer after Grady Gallagher left for Western Dubuque, he contacted Pickup.

Pickup was a mentor to Marshall as he worked on his business degree.

“I said to him after I took the job, ‘I want you in it, I want you on the bench,'” Marshall said. “He’s like, ‘No, I can’t sit on the bench. I can’t do this to you, Marty.'”

Pickup changed his mind just before the Sabers opened the season at Bettendorf. He’s been there ever since.

As players exit the game, they usually go to the end and have a word with Pickup before sitting down.

Small was the head basketball coach at Camanche and with the Central DeWitt girls. Marshall said he was basically the team’s offensive coordinator.

“These guys are basically an extension of me,” Marshall noted. “We all have the same mindset.”

Small and Pickup often make suggestions to Marshall during the game.

“I love that they’re in my ear to give me ideas,” Marshall said. “I wanted people around me who could help me in all aspects and who had different points of view.”

Some of the offensive principles Central DeWitt has used this season are those Pickup executed with his teams from 1998-08. Much of the Sabers’ movement and early offensive philosophies came from Small.

With three coaches running programs on one staff, there could be friction or egos getting in the way. This does not happen.

“From day one they said, ‘Marty, you’re the head coach and you’re the voice that needs to be heard. We believe in what you’re doing, we’re following and we’ll give our opinion here and there,” Marshall said.

The Sabers have also integrated well on the field.

Predicted to finish fifth in the Mississippi Athletic Conference preseason poll by coaches, Central DeWitt went 12-6 in the league and lost no non-conference games.

“We all developed that chemistry,” McEwen said. “We all love each other and play for each other and it shows on the pitch.”

In the playoffs, Central DeWitt eliminated Grinnell, Cedar Rapids Xavier and Solon. He passed Grinnell, scored a season-high 82 points against Xavier, and earned a defensive slugfest against Solon.

“We exceeded everyone’s expectations except our own,” McEwen said. “We know we’re not done with what we want to do. We want to go to Des Moines and win games.”

They will try to do so as the seventh seed.

Despite a victory over fellow 3A qualifier Assumption and a schedule strength in the top 30 according to the BCMoore computer rankings, the Sabers were ranked near the bottom of the pack by the coaches.

“We feel a bit belittled by that,” Watters said. “We think we can compete with some of the higher seeds, like we did with Assumption this year. We take note of that and we’ll remember that.”

The Sabers practiced at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Monday and will have a shootout at Knapp Center in Des Moines on Tuesday.

The ultimate goal is to become the first Central DeWitt team in 41 years to win a championship – and much bigger hardware for the trophy showcase.

“We want nothing less than a state championship,” Watters said. “We go there with a mindset one game at a time, but the end goal is that state title.”

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