Freshman walk-on guard Dylan Jergens could become star for Central Michigan
Dylan Jergens is a preferred walk-on freshman guard at Central Michigan, but if you looked at his numbers, you’d probably think otherwise.
As a senior in the 2018-19 season for Marcellus Howardsville Christian, the guard averaged 40.5 points per game, 6.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 4.7 steals.
He accumulated 971 points that season and 2,782 throughout his high school career, finishing third all-time in state history.
Of those 971 points in his senior campaign, 294 of them came from 3-point range. That’s 98 triples.
Last but not least, Jergens was on a Detroit News Dream Team that included four other players – Emoni Bates (Ypsilanti Lincoln), Carlos “Scooby” Johnson (Benton Harbor), Jalen Terry (Flint Beecher) and Romeo Weems (2019 Mr. Basketball, DePaul).
"Growing up my whole life, people told me I had to transfer or I wouldn't get the recognition," Jergens said. "I stayed and tried to make a name for myself."
For reference, Bates was noted by USA Today as "the best freshman basketball player in the United States” due to his performance in 2018-19. Johnson is a 2020 three-star prospect that's committed to Butler. Terry is a 2020 four-star point guard with offers from LSU, Louisville, Michigan State, Michigan and others, and he's ranked No. 56 in the nation.
That’s some unbelievable company for a walk-on at Central Michigan – a school that plays in the Mid-American Conference and hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2003.
But Jergens is in Mount Pleasant and ready to build his legacy for the Chippewas.
"I'm trying to work my butt off and create a winning culture," Jergens said. "By my sophomore or junior year, I'll fight for some minutes.
"I'll do whatever it takes."
How it happened
Being from Howardsville Christian, a school with an enrollment of 32 students in the 2018-19 academic year, put Jergens at a disadvantage.
He was one of 10 students in his senior class and played Division 4 basketball in high school while also taking the court for Strictly Skills Basketball Club, his AAU team.
Jergens' AAU coach, Scott Eubank, reached out to the coaching staff at Central Michigan. He had a relationship with now-former assistant coach Jeff Smith.
"Hey, Dylan's looking to commit to a Division II school or NAIA, but he was wondering if you'd give him a walk-on spot?" Eubank asked.
The Chippewas weren't the only school Eubank reached out to regarding Jergens, but Smith was quickly intrigued. Eighth-year coach Keno Davis felt the same way.
Again, Jergens was the first player in the state to average more than 40 points per game since 1964-65.
Jergens said he knew he could play at a higher level than Division II or NAIA, but he wasn't getting any opportunities.
"I can't blame schools that didn't offer," Jergens said. "I came from a small school, and I'm not the biggest body. I've got a lot of room to develop in my body."
That's when Central Michigan answered the call.
Smith, who is now at Oakland University, made a drive from Mount Pleasant to Marcellus in October 2018 to watch Jergens work out.
Little did Smith know it was the same day as Howardsville Christian's district semifinal soccer game. In the win, Jergens played the entire game.
When Smith called Jergens earlier in the day, Jergens didn't mention the soccer game. He didn't want anything to stand in the way of his shot at Division I.
It was his father and high school basketball coach, Tim Jergens, and AAU coach that informed Smith of the soccer game.
"Is it OK if he does it after the match?" Tim asked Smith.
"Yeah, but does he want to workout after he's done?" Smith questioned.
"Oh yeah," Tim responded. "He would go to the gym anyway."
Despite playing a soccer game, Jergens had an opportunity. He took it, and it paid off.
"I was stressed out because it was a big soccer game," Jergens said. "More importantly, what I dreamed of doing came after."
When Smith arrived at Howardsville Christian in St. Joseph County, he wasn't sure if he went to the right place. The school is located in the middle of nowhere.
"It was dark, there were no lights," Smith said. "I pulled into this area where there were just a few buildings.
"You could fit the entire school property inside McGuirk Arena."
Sure enough, Jergens was standing in the parking lot. He was still in his soccer uniform after playing a full match.
Jergens changed his clothes, swapped his cleats for sneakers and began working out at an "unbelievable level" for about an hour.
Smith watched in awe.
"He was making shots all over the place," Smith said. "Afterward, I said, 'Listen, if you want to do this, we'd love to have you.'"
Jergens went to Mount Pleasant the next week with his father, walked around campus and decided he wanted to join the team.
The walk-on guard committed to the Chippewas on Oct. 26.
"He's a wonderful kid and has some competitive fire to him," Smith said. "If he allows himself to be patient and continue to work, the sky is the limit for him."
'I never felt out of place'
When Jergens was finishing his junior year of high school, he took the court in an AAU game against REACH Legends in May 2018.
Strictly Skills lost to REACH Legends in a Lansing tournament by eight points, but Jergens scored 27 in the contest.
It's even more impressive when evaluating his competition.
REACH Legends were a team compromised of multiple players that are now at the Division I level.
The squad Jergens clashed with included Miami combo guard Harlond Beverly (four-star, No. 54 overall), Wisconsin point guard Lorne Bowman (three-star, No. 157), Georgia State center Jalen Thomas (three-star, No. 242), Florida Atlantic power forward Carrington Mccaskill (three-star, No. 413), Toledo shooting guard Donavan Moore, Green Bay shooting guard Jiovanni Miles and Brown point guard Daniel Friday.
"I hadn't ever played against that many Division I guys in a game, so I started off learning the pace, but I was able to get my points, hang with them and defend," Jergens said. "It wasn't all that bad."
His father said the recognition his son received was earned not given. Jergens proved he deserved the accolades through his play at the AAU level.
As for Jergens' time thus far at Central Michigan, his father said he still has a long way to go.
"He played against Division I kids in the summer, had all the confidence in the world and was the leading scorer with 27 points," Tim said. "Once you get to a certain level, you have to have confidence in your game.
"Here, he needs more size and confidence. That has to come with time."
Path to playing time
Jergens stands at 6-feet, and he weighs 160 pounds.
He's undersized, and he knows it.
"My first couple years, I have to really hit the weights," Jergens said. "I have to get to about 170 or 175. That's what I'm doing – eating and working out."
Jergens arrived in Mount Pleasant on June 20 and immediately got in the gym while taking a few classes to get ahead in his academics.
His current goals are to improve each day and work hard.
Jergens hasn't been on his own. He's soaked up knowledge from guards Devontae Lane and Travon Broadway Jr., Deschon Winston, PJ Mitchell and Dallas Morgan.
If he ever wants to see the court, that's exactly what he has to do – learn from his more experienced teammates.
The case for Jergens to eventually find playing time is likely helped by the fact that he'll be taking a redshirt for the 2019-20 season. He gets a full year away from in-game experiences to practice on the scout team, put up shots as many shots as he desires and spend as much time in the weight room as his body allows.
It could end up as a recipe for success.
"The best thing you can say about him is you don't know," Davis said. "Knowing him, there's nobody that's going to work harder. He's coming in to see how great of a player he can be."
Before Jergens joined the program, Davis and Smith were honest with him. They didn't promise any playing but said Jergens will get his chance if he's in the top nine or 10 guys in the rotation.
Smith, no longer at Central Michigan, said it's "very possible" that Jergens ends up as a key player for the Chippewas down the road.
"The value placed upon shooting the ball will give him the opportunity to do that," Smith said.
For the time being, while Jergens is learning the ropes of Division I hoops and upping his weight, he'll be going against teammates like Lane and Broadway – two starting junior guards – along with backups Winston, Morgan and Mitchell.
Right next to Jergens will be Division II transfer Preston Enloe, who has been forced to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules after coming over from Tarleton State.
"You're looking at guys that can help our team become better by going against our top group every day," Davis said. "At the same time, they'll become better as players for going through it."
The one aspect of the game Jergens has to his advantage is his ability to shoot from the 3-point line.
Jergens ranks second in high school state history with 320 career 3-pointers made.
Tim believes shooting is the most valuable asset for a basketball player. His son told him there were a few shooting competitions the Chippewas held before the 2019-20 season began.
Jergens finished second and fourth.
"If you can shoot the ball, they'll find a spot for you," Tim said. "He can shoot with the best of them."
Again, he's still missing is the confidence piece.
"Once he's not scared to make a mistake on the floor, you'll see him blossom," Tim said. "He's just not there yet. He's not the Dylan with confidence, but it's a process."
The speed of the game is also much faster, and Smith said Jergens needs to improve his strength and quickness.
"He's got all the skills," Smith said. "It's just about being able to play at that level. If he's willing to hang in there and work, he could be one of those stories down the road that people talk about."
Jergens is also adjusting to college life at a university that's 600 times as large as his high school from a population standpoint.
Some challenges come with being a first-year college student away from home. Tim consistently reminds him that the process comes with a simple equation: focused intensity over time.
Eventually, unstoppable momentum will begin.
Finishing with 2,782 career points, Jergens ranks third on the state's all-time scoring list.
He probably would've broken Jay Smith's record of 2,841 points if it wasn't for his father holding him back in certain situations.
"I held him out in some fourth quarters," Tim said. "All in all, it was nice to see him recognized."
Jergens is no longer at Howardsville Christian. He's taken a giant leap from a school with 32 students to the Division I level at Central Michigan.
He's nowhere near ready to play at the moment, but he believes in his ability to eventually take the court for the Chippewas.
That's Jergens' lifelong dream.
"I believe I've got the skill for it," Jergens said. "It's about staying committed, working hard and not giving up.
"I've got future here if I keep working at it."