Gielczyk: Buckley Seeking to Take Game up a Notch

Everyone is familiar with the story by now. Or should be.

The small community of Buckley went crazy as its boys basketball team blazed a path to the MHSAA Class D state championship game, nearly toppling Powers North Central for the ultimate prize.

One poor quarter, the first, in which the Bears were outscored, 38-20, proved decisive. The Bears never quit, but simply were unable to dig themselves out of that early 18-point hole and wound up losing, 78-69.

Falling to a state powerhouse that will take an 83-game winning streak into next season is certainly nothing to hang their heads over, especially after the picked themselves off the deck and came up swinging – in a manner of speaking.

Buckley would seem to be set up nicely for another run at the state title, with all five starters coming back, including Denver Cade who finished with 25 points against North Central.

Also returning will be Austin Harris, who had 22 points and nine boards in the state championship game, as well as Joey Webber who added 15 points and seven rebounds to the attack.

Experience alone won’t get them back to the finals, though. It’s certainly a good start. But the Bears realize they need to work even harder now that they’ve put Buckley on the basketball map.

They’re not going to sneak up on anybody this year. As defending Northwest Conference champions, the Bears will have a target on their back this season. Everyone will be gunning for them.

“I told them that everyone knows who Buckley is now,” head coach Blair Moss said. “I said ‘You’re going to get everybody’s best. You’re going to have to take it up another notch. If you don’t do it, you’re going to get beat. You cannot rest on your laurels.’

“Whatever happened last year is last year. This a new year, and the bull’s eye got even bigger. You’ve got to come to play.’ That was my message, and then at the end I said ‘If you’re not in the weight room, if you’re not in the gym, then nothing is going to change. We’ll be decent, we’ll win the games we’re supposed to win. But, are we champions?’

“That’s the difference. We’ll see if the message got to them. I said it loud and clear. But, we’ll see what happens.”

You don’t get a trophy for winning in the summer, but the Bears clearly made some big strides in June – going 3-1 at Northwood (losing only to Detroit Pershing), 5-0 at Ferris State, 2-1 at Hope, 5-0 at Grand Valley and finished up 5-0 at Central Michigan for a 20-2 slate.

Moss rested his starters when the Bears returned home to participate in the Benzie Central Shoot Out and went with his so-called second unit as he tried to find those players who will be the first and second guys off the bench, or the sixth and seventh players. However you want to look at it. The Huskies wrapped up the summer going 4-0 at Cadillac.

“I saw some games there that, if we shoot the way I know we can, if we play the way I know we can … we’re going to be pretty good,” said Moss. “We dismantled Kalamazoo Central, a Class A school. It was probably the best game I saw my kids play.”

Buckley did lost three seniors, including Dillon Hankins, who was the first reserve off the bench and gave the Bears three to four minutes of good defense and rebounding. That spot still needs to be filled.

Right now, 6-foot-5 inch big man Nick Kuhn is hurt. He injured his knee and missed the last three weeks of the summer schedule. Moss is hoping he can get rehab the knee and get it back in shape.

“I told him ‘If you’re not living in the weight room, and the gym, from here on out then I’m going to be not too happy,'” Moss said. “He just shook his head and said ‘Yes, coach.” We’ll see what happens.”

Buckley took on all challengers this summer, and didn’t shy away from anyone. That’s how Moss wanted it. He wanted to play the best, win or lose. The Bears have to play at a higher level if they want to become champions.

Moss is also aware that it takes a little luck.

“You’ve got to stay healthy,” the coach said. “Some kid could get hurt, sprain ankle, or whatever. So, you need that kid to come off the bench and give you that spark. Trust me, I’m working real hard to find that person.

“Right now, it’s not there yet. Hopefully, by November we get that taken care of.”

Once he finds that piece of the puzzle, Moss will feel more comfortable and confident of the Bears picking up where they left off last year.

The Bears have a three-pronged offensive attack with Cade, Harris and Webber that gives defenses fits. Shut down one, and the other two will burn you. Even if you manage to take out two, there’s still one left to be open.

It presents nightmares for the other team.

“Joey Webber played AAU ball with Denver this year, and I thought he took the biggest jump of them all,” said Moss. “He was unbelievable. He was relentless. He took it in to the bucket, didn’t matter how big the kids were.

“I saw him grow in terms of his maturity, and his play, his skill. Now, if I can get the other guys to take a jump, we’ll be fine.”

That’s bad news for the rest of the league. Buckley has no intention of surrendering its title without a battle.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. 

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