Zach Hahn knows what it’s like to strategize alongside Mark James, having worked three seasons as an assistant for the Ben Davis boys basketball coach.

Tonight, the first-year Center Grove coach discovers firsthand the intricacies of executing a game plan intent on defeating him.

Ranked No. 10 in Class 4A, the Giants currently lead the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference standings with a 4-0 mark. Center Grove remains in search of its first league victory having lost at No. 9 Pike and on its own court to fourth-ranked Carmel.

Ben Davis is 10-4 overall, having lost to eventual champion Pike, 54-51, in semifinal action at last week’s Marion County Tournament. The Trojans are 9-4, having just captured the Johnson County Tournament title.

James is the third and most recent of Hahn’s primary basketball influences.

The first was Steve Bennett, his coach at New Castle High School. Hahn then absorbed the teachings and game tendencies of former Butler University and current Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens as a player for the Bulldogs from 2007-2011.

The opportunity to sit on the bench opposite James is one Hahn embraces.

“I’m excited about to go back and see those guys. It will be fun,” Hahn said. “It will be different going into the visitors locker room, though.”

Hahn has his work cut out.

James is 3-0 against Center Grove. (That also translates into Hahn being 3-0 against the program he now leads.)

The Trojans’ most recent victory in the series was a 85-70 triumph midway through the 2010-2011 season.

One player Center Grove athletes must contend with for the second time in three months is 6-foot-6 power forward Brennan Gillis, a formidable interior presence already signed to play college basketball at Northern Kentucky University.

Gillis started at tight end during the football season for the Class 6A state champions, snagging four receptions for 37 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants’ wild 49-45 semistate triumph over the Trojans in November.

Center Grove, meanwhile, is led by 6-4 senior guard Michael Benkert, who averaged 16 points in his team’s victories over Greenwood and Whiteland at the county tourney.

What has emerged as a deep and balanced Trojans’ squad also received outstanding tournament efforts from senior guard Anderson McCoy as well as junior guards Trevor Harrell and Bailey Barrett.

This is James’ 33rd season as a boys basketball coach in Indiana with a 493-257 record (.657) to show for it.

Among the branches on the James coaching tree are Franklin Central coach John Rockey, Pat Skaggs at Logansport, Bryan Hughes at Barr-Reeve and Mark McFarland at Rensselaer Central.

And now Hahn.

While James is unsure how tonight’s game will play out, he’s certain Center Grove will be as prepared as they are hard-nosed.

“Zach was a hard worker for us and has great knowledge of the game. He was my assistant coach, so he helped with film, camps, study tables, game plans and with our overall program,” James said.

“He was very good working one-on-one with our kids, which is really important in our situation. There was no doubt in my mind that he would be a good head basketball coach.”

Zach Hahn pullout


Here are five of the boys basketball coaches in Indiana who consider themselves part of the Mark James coaching tree:

  • Zach Hahn, Center Grove, first season – 9-4
  • John Rockey, Franklin Central, fourth season – 42-41
  • Pat Skaggs, Logansport, second season – 22-9 and 302-215 overall
  • Bryan Hughes, Barr-Reeve, 23rd season – 396-144 and 509-192 overall
  • Mark McFarland, Rensselaer Central, first season – 9-4 and 37-40 overall
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at