There are no hard hats on the basketball floor, but a few summer months at a construction job reinforced Jalen Russell's roll up your sleeves attitude for Marquette Catholic.

"He worked for me in the summer," Blazers coach Fred Mooney said. "I saw him here and I saw how he handled it there. He was on time, did what he was supposed to do, and put in an honest day's work."

That largely describes the 6-foot junior guard's hoops career up to now, one where points don't define his value to the team.

"My brother (Eric) will joke around, all right, I want 23 points," Russell said. "People will ask, 'How many points did you drop?' I'll say, 'I got two, but I got the team involved.' It doesn't faze me. I've always been a pass first guard. I've got no problem with that."

On a Blazers team with four double-figure scorers, Russell knows where he fits in on this roster.

"He understands where he's at in the pecking order," Mooney said. "He is one of our better defenders. He has a nice reach. He moves well. He jumps quick. He gets to the rim. His shot has vastly improved. He gives us match-up opportunities."

After following cousin JoVonte Peals from LaPorte to Marquette, Russell played on the junior varsity as a freshman and saw spot minutes off the bench last season. In a regular season beset by injuries, Marquette was without Russell for a month after he tore a ligament in his foot Dec. 23. It went 3-5 in his absence. He returned Jan. 24 and the record has been 8-2 since.

Coincidence?

"Personally, it was understanding what (coach Mooney)'s wanting, breaking down everything for me, just always doing my best on the court at all times," Russell said. "I love coach Mooney. He's always been there for me. There's a lot of trust. I lacked confidence. He brought it out of me."

While he's picked up his scoring, averaging 6 points per game, Russell's No. 1 job remains being a perimeter stopper.

"I definitely had to mature, help with the younger guys at practices, try to be a leader," he said. "I learned from (former Blazer) Cameron Hall. He wasn't too flashy, he just worked hard. It was a great learning experience. I just try to get us going on defense. Bring the energy on the defensive end and that brings the energy on the offensive end."

That spark was absent when the Blazers lost 74-62 to Andrean on Jan. 10. He'll get another chance in Saturday's Class 2A North Judson Regional, where Russell will lock up with 59ers' leading scorer James Hudson.

"We struggled on defense early," Russell said. "We’re starting to click. Practices are a lot more intense. We're focused in more."

With two of Marquette's top four scorers graduating, Russell knows he'll have to continue to log the hours in the weight room and make strides as a scorer heading into his senior season.

"Jalen's best basketball is still in front of him," Mooney said.

While Russell isn't currently planning on basketball beyond high school, the 3.5 student has already known for several years what he wants to do after college. Since suffering two broken elbows in sixth grade, he's aspired to attend medical school and become an orthopedic surgeon.

Saturday's regional is the fifth in a row for Marquette. Unlike most of the others, the Blazers, at 13-14, come in as an underdog. That's OK with Russell.

"We're playing as a team now, starting to listen, buy in to coach," he said. "After we lost to Goshen in double OT, we had to get to it. We all have confidence in ourselves right now. I can't wait. I think we can do it. We'll let the play decide it."

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