(New Buffalo, MI) - There's good reason to be optimistic about the New Buffalo boys' basketball team repeating as District 4 champions this season.
All five starters on last year's squad are back. Head Coach Nate Tripp said bench players, though, hold the key to the potential of this year's team to fill in when starters become sick or injured.
Tripp said he'll need solid play off the bench when his starters need a break, perhaps, from a run and gun offense and pressure defense he plans to use in each game from start to finish to take advantage of their speed and quickness.
Last season, the Bison often played fast on offense and pressured the ball on defense in spots, but three key players off the bench last year were lost to graduation.
Tripp expects the team to struggle early from learning the changes imposed on both sides of the court. However, the plan is for the team to be peaking before the District 4 tournament.
“I feel like we’re making a huge change in what we do. I feel we’ll probably give up some games that normally we probably wouldn’t early on but the goal is by the end of the season to be clicking on all cylinders,” Tripp said.
All seniors' starters are Kayden Parmley, Anthony Lijewski, Ryan Vincent, Mark Shaw, and Jeremiah Mitchell. Coming off the bench are players with potential but not a lot of varsity game experience.
Tripp believes that the bench players must also handle the faster style of play, which they're making strides at doing right now.
“Lots of question marks. My expectations for this team really all depend on our bench play,” he said.
Players coming off the bench include 6' 10" senior Zach Forker, a high percentage shooter and shot blocker.
“He’s got to be a match-up nightmare for any team,” Tripp said.
The Bison seemed to have some rough edges during a fast-paced Monday night scrimmage at home against a talented LaLumiere team. New Buffalo outscored the Lakers by five points in the first half.
LaLumiere racked up 17 more points than the Bison in the second half. Two dunks by Owen Kmety were examples of the dominance by the Lakers during the final two quarters when poor shot selection and turnovers didn't help matters for the Bison.
New Buffalo narrowed the lead in the second half on quick buckets down low from Forker and later a three-point shot from Parmley. The Lakers, though, answered each time with a flurry of points to restore or extend their lead.
The Bison easily won three previous scrimmage games against Gobles, Bloomingdale, and Delton Kellogg. However, the Bison lost to Howardsville in the first round of the regionals in a game Tripp felt his team should have won.
“This group is capable of more. Whether we can produce that or not remains to be seen,” he said.