The good news? Black River’s boys basketball team is coming off its second straight 10-win season. The five returnees have 11 years of varsity experience and its combination of post players is hard to beat in the Patriot Athletic Conference.
The bad news? The bench is thin, especially in the backcourt, and 14-point scorer and honorable mention All-Gazette pick Carl Younglas was lost to graduation.
New Black River boys basketball coach Don Brunker is thinking positive.
“As we approach the new season, we’re an experienced team with a tremendous amount of leadership,” he said. “We have five seniors who are going to play a major role in our season’s success. For the most part, it’s been very good so far.”
The reason for Brunker’s optimism is based around his projected starting lineup of senior point guard Jake O’Connor (5-10), senior shooting guard Mat Stuart (6-0), senior small forward Joe Tutie (6-1), junior power forward John Guilford (6-4) and senior center Jon Sas (6-2).
The size in the frontcourt is especially intriguing. Sas (6.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) should provide a strong defensive presence in the middle, Guilford (4.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg) is a good rebounder and Tutie (7.3, 5.5) brings a blue-collar mentality.
Though none of them have great shooting range, the trio can control the paint on both sides of the ball.
“It’s nice to have three guys that have the experience they do and the ability they do as well,” Brunker said. “I think they will certainly play a large role in our success this year.”
Depth in the frontcourt is solid. The same can’t be said on the outside — guard Cody Klosski (5.4 points, 22 3-pointers) moved to Chippewa — making O’Connor (6.8 ppg, 3.2 apg, 1.4 spg) arguably the key to the Pirates’ season.
The speedy do-everything football player will have to fill a similar role this winter on the hardwood. He is the team’s best ball handler, shooter and perimeter defender.
Brunker is confident the fourth-year player is up to the task, though Stuart, senior Brian Clements (6-1), sophomore Gus Kazek (5-8) and junior Dean Finkel (6-4) will also help with bringing the ball up the court. Junior Tom Ziebro (6-1) rounds out the rotation.
“We have a variety of options,” Brunker said.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AT A GLANCE
Coach: Don Brunker, 2nd year overall, 1st at Black River.
Career record: 3-18.
Last year: 10-12, 5-8 in PAC
Assistant coaches: Larry Brunker, Tom Carver
Jake O’Connor: Senior point guard averaged 6.8 points and 3.2 assists as junior. Team’s best ball handler, shooter and perimeter defender.
Jon Sas: Senior center is one of strongest players in conference. Not a scorer, but a good defender and leader.
Joe Tutie: Senior post is quietly productive and has posted big games in the past. He gets by on grit.