BLOOMINGTON — Jason Gregoire’s progression as an Illinois Wesleyan basketball player has been a slow but steady one.
Gregoire went from strictly a junior varsity player as a freshman to dressing for varsity games as a sophomore while still seeing JV action.
“Jason was on the fringe of playing all year last year. He was kind of that odd man out,” IWU coach Ron Rose said. “But he was always in our thoughts.”
Gregoire has advanced from Rose’s thoughts to his starting lineup.
The junior from Cary-Grove High School has started the Titans’ last two games and will again be part of the opening five Saturday as IWU meets Elmhurst in a 7 p.m. College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin game at Shirk Center.
“This year I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen,” said Gregoire, who was slowed by a preseason bout with mononucleosis. “I started off as a role player, the eighth or ninth man off the bench. I made some plays along the way, and ended up getting in the starting lineup.”
Colin Bonnett, Alex O’Neill, Jaylen Beasley and Brady Rose have started all 13 games for the Titans (10-3, 3-1 in the CCIW). The fifth spot also has been manned nine times by Nick Coleman and twice by Zach Knobloch.
“Jason gives us another big, strong guard,” Rose said. “He is an uber competitive kid and a really smart player. You see him taking the right angle on defense or offensively finding the little holes in how he cuts to the basket.”
The 6-foot-4 Gregoire is averaging 5.9 points and 1.8 rebounds while handing out 23 assists and committing just 11 turnovers. He saw action in nine games as a sophomore, totaling eight points and seven rebounds.
“I felt like I needed to make my mark on the defensive end if I wanted to get playing time,” he said. “We’ve got enough scorers. I need to be a defensive stopper.”
Gregoire has drawn comparisons from Rose to past Titans Andy Stempel and Michael Mayberger as “guys who are fundamentally solid, smart and tough.”
“I want to be a glue guy,” said Gregoire, “do whatever we need to help the team win.”
Baines leads Elmhurst: Former University High School and IWU player John Baines is the head coach of an Elmhurst team that has already surpassed last season’s win total of eight. The Bluejays are 9-3 overall and 2-1 in the CCIW.
“We’re starting to find our stride a little bit,” said Baines, a member of the Titans’ 1997 Division III national championship team. “We’re really, really young but really talented. I expect to win and so do they.”
Elmhurst is led by the tandem of redshirt freshman guard Jake Rhode (15.3 points per game) and junior forward Jeremy Ireland (16.3, 10.7 rebounds).
The 5-10 Rhode was averaging 19.1 points through seven games before suffering a season-ending injury a year ago. The 6-7 Ireland sat out last season as a transfer from North Central.
“I think before all is said and done, he is going to be a premier guard in the league,” Baines said of Rhode. “I knew Ireland would be good, but he’s rebounded well and scored better than I thought he might."
The Bluejays sport a plus 10 rebounding margin. “Our strength is always on the glass it seems,” said Baines. “We have to win the glass, and we’re shooting the ball pretty well. Playing there, we have to put points on the board.”
The Elmhurst coach said Wesleyan junior Brady Rose (20.7 points) is “playing at an All-American level. I think Brady is the best player in the league right now. He’s playing like it.”
Ron Rose called the Bluejays “a tremendous team. They’re athletic, skilled and probably ahead of where you might have expected them because of how many new and young players he’s playing. Watch them on film and they’re scary."
Justin Fox, a freshman from Dwight, is contributing 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds for Elmhurst. Fox has played in all 12 games and started six.