DANVILLE — Mary Miller Gymnasium was as loud as it had been all season on Wednesday night.
DaJaun Gouard would know.
The Danville Area Community men’s basketball coach was not only pleased with how his Jaguars performed during their 77-65 win against nearby Parkland, but with the amount of support that showed up to DACC’s home venue.
“I told our guys, ‘Look, this is probably the most people that has ever been to our game,” Gouard said. “But that’s what tournament-style basketball looks like. Let’s embrace it. Let’s understand the moment. Let’s hear the noise and then let’s be able to block the noise out.”
Gouard has been at the helm of the Jaguars program for the last 10 seasons and was an assistant coach within the program for another three years prior.
He is also a Danville native who played at Danville High School from 1997-2001.
So he knows better than most what the Jaguars’ rivalry against Parkland means.
“Beating a rival is always huge, but I always tell our guys at the same time, Danville and Champaign is a rivalry,” Gouard said. “We’ve got one guy on our roster from Danville, so the guys from Kentucky, Ohio, they don’t always understand the rivalry part of it because they’re not from here.
“At the same time, I try to get them to understand, everybody has a rival in high school. I try to put them in that mind frame and then let them go out and play. Every conference win you can get is huge, but winning at home against Parkland is always good.”
Such is juxtaposed with his roster, which only features two players from Illinois in Martez Rhodes and Jalin Howell. Rhodes is a 6-foot-3 guard who grew up in Chicago but graduated last year from Danville High School, and Howell is a 6-3 guard who is a native of Danville.
“It’s always good playing in a rivalry atmosphere,” DACC guard Kendall Taylor said. “Energy is always high. It’s just good seeing that we have support and being able to come out and play.”
That’s been the theme of the Jaguars’ season as a collection of players from eight states have jelled into a team that carries a No. 10 national ranking and an 18-4 record.
That includes five wins against NJCAA Division I opposition. A test against No. 5 South Suburban awaits next Thursday night at Mary Miller Gymnasium to launch a four-game stretch to close the regular season.
“It’s honestly the test that we need,” Gouard said, “As we get late into the season and as we get into conference tournament play, you have to play back-to-back games. If we want to be the last team standing in our conference, then we have to go win some tough games on the road.
“I’m just a competitor like that where I always think my teams have a chance, so I want to play against the best.”
The Jaguars are a tight-knit group. NBA 2K tournaments are common. Taylor, a 6-5 guard from Sacramento, Calif., says he’s the best with the controller but concedes that guard Ramelle Arnold and forward Terrance Ringo are formidable foes. Dameriz Merriweather, by his own admission, isn’t very good.
“The first day here it was love from the jump,” said Merriweather, a 6-1 guard from Indianapolis. “We’re all here for one mission and one mission only and that’s to get better and go to the next level. So it’s like, when you’ve got people on the same page as you, you all connect so well because you’re all on the same page.”
A celebration interrupted Merriweather’s postgame interview after the Jaguars sent an energetic home crowd home happy on Wednesday night.
Standing outside the team’s locker room and answering a question about DACC’s schedule, Merriweather had to pause when the majority of the Jaguars’ roster filed past with fists pumping and voices blaring.
“That’s what it takes to be a Jaguar,” was the common refrain.
It was a sentiment echoed in Merriweather’s eventual answer.
“Really, to be honest, I really don’t worry about the schedule because they’ve got to come play us,” Merriweather said. “If we’re doing bad, we’re going to beat ourselves. If we’re doing good, we’re going to beat them.”
DACC employs a balanced offensive approach on the court that has enabled four scorers to average double figures through the first three months of the season.
Taylor leads the way with a team-high 13.4 points, while Arnold (12.8 points), Merriweather (11.0 points) and 6-5 forward Stephen Atkinson (10.4 points).
Taylor and Arnold are also keying the Jaguars with 6.2 rebounds and 5.2 rebounds per game, respectively.
“We have yet to play a game with our whole roster, and we’re still pretty good,” Gouard said. “We’re hoping we get Ahmoni (Weston) back next week and I believe that makes us 20 times more dangerous with the speed and with the way he plays the game.
“This team has a different chemistry. They all get along. They all love each other. Ramelle didn’t play well at all (against Parkland), but at the end of the bench, he’s clapping, he’s talking to guys. He’s not being self selfish ... to be honest, you don’t always get this.”
Gouard joined the Jaguars’ staff at the same time as his assistant coach Rick Voyles. Voyles, like Gouard, is a Danville High grad who played at DACC in 1988 and knows the area scene well. They’ve navigated the Jaguars through plenty of highs since 2010, including five 20-win seasons and appearances in two NJCAA D-II national tournaments that take place on DACC’s home court.
“It’s just wonderful coming to work with somebody that you care about,” Voyles said. “He’s like a brother to me.
“At the same time, we trust one another. Then that goes into not only the coaching aspect but the recruiting aspect in getting the type of players with the high character and the IQ, the kind of players we like, getting them here on campus and working together.”
DACC has been the home of the NJCAA DI-I tournament annually since 1994. Home-court advantage hasn’t led to a championship trophy yet, but the Jaguars’ gym is a postseason destination that at least seems attainable for this season’s Jaguars.
“I think we’re capable of a lot,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of pieces. I think we’re capable of making the national tournament and making some noise there.”