In Play with Tom Markowski

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Coming off of the program’s best season, Buckley takes aim on another great season as all five starters return

By: Tom Markowski, December 13, 2017, 12:42 pm

Buckley – The tables are turned for coach Blair Moss and his Buckley boys basketball team. Last season the Bears surprised many by reaching the Class D final, the first final appearance in school history, and the challenge is, how well will Buckley handle its new-found fame?

Buckley, with five starters returning, won’t sneak up on any team this season. The Bears were ranked No. 2 in Class D in State Champs’ preseason poll and there is every reason to believe that they will make another long run in the state tournament.

“It’s a lot different this year,” senior forward Denver Cade said. “The target is on us. People are going to watch us and teams are going to come after us. Last year we were the underdogs. This year we’re the ones teams are gunning for.”

Cade is one of four, four-year starters. At 6-2, Cade is one of the leaders on this team. He’s a player who can take the ball strong to the basket, lead the fast break and take the perimeter shot. Like all of Moss’ players, Cade is expected, and normally does, to play strong defensively.

Its Buckley’s defense that triggers its offense and the main reason why the Bears were 26-1 last season losing to three-time defending state champion Powers North Central, 78-69, in the final.

“We were all good on offense when we came here,” Cade said. “It was when we started to play defense that we made our (tournament) runs.”

Not only is this an experienced team, they’re used to winning. As freshmen these seniors won 11 games. They reached a regional final as sophomores losing to Bellaire, 61-57. They’ve won 53 games in three seasons and if they don’t make it to the Breslin Center in East Lansing this season it will indeed be a disappointment.

Moss is in his fifth season at Buckley and before he came to this town in northern Wexford County nestled between Traverse City and Cadillac on M-37, Moss coached at Benzie Central in Benzonia. He said he’s at the right place at the right time.

“To win you have to have good players, and that’s what I have,” he said. “I knew they were good as freshmen. (Last season) was a dream season. Being nine points away from being a state champion says a lot about this team. But the bullseye got bigger. Everyone knows who Buckley is. We just got to get back to what we do well and that’s run and play defense.

“I haven’t pushed them too hard. By March, you’re legs are dead. I want them with me when we get to March.”

The other four-year starters are Brook Beeman, Austin Harris and Joey Weber. The fifth starter is Beeman’s brother, Ridge, who’s a junior. Harris is 6-3 and plays what can be considered a stretch four. Buckley doesn’t have a true post player in its starting lineup. Harris and the two Beemans all can shoot the three, and Weber is more of a role player. Weber doesn’t shy away from contact and is one of the team’s top ball handlers.

Then there’s Nick Kuhn who played sparingly last season as a junior. He’s the most improved player over the past three or four years and, at 6-6 and 275 pounds, Kuhn gives the Bears a different look when he enters the game.

“He’s too nice,” Moss said. “He needs to be more physical.”

Nonetheless, Moss said Kuhn is improving game by game.

A member of the Northwest Conference, Buckley opened the season last week against Kalamazoo Hackett, a Class C school, 63-59, at Kalamazoo College. Cade, who averaged 20 points last season, was held to seven. On Tuesday Buckley went to conference rival Onekama and defeated the Portagers, 68-40, as Cade led all scorers with 28.  

Next Tuesday Buckley will host McBain, a traditional Class C power, in a nonleague game. That’s it for the Bears in 2017. They will continue conference play Jan. 4 at Benzie Central.

“It was better,” Cade said of the victory at Onekama. “We want our defense to trigger our offense. We can’t rely on the three all of the time.”