By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Buckley’s boys basketball team waited a long time to make this history – more than 100 years on the court, and then through a double overtime Semifinal on the other side of the Class D bracket Thursday.
But however long it took to earn the program’s first MHSAA championship game berth, it was going to be worth it.
The Bears’ best run ever will reach this season’s final day, as they won their first Semifinal in team history 68-61 over Lansing Christian at the Breslin Center to advance to Saturday’s 10 a.m. Final against two-time reigning champion Powers North Central.
Only twice previously had Buckley made the season’s final week, playing in Quarterfinals in 2010 and 1998. But the Bears have built a dominating 26-0 run this winter keyed by a talented group of juniors who have brought plenty of attention to their small town tucked 20 miles south of Traverse City.
“Speechless. Unbelievable. (I’m sad) it’s over, but I’m glad we’re here,” junior Austin Harris said.
“Sometimes like tonight, I’m just standing out there watching these guys shoot free throws,” junior teammate Denver Cade added, “and I’m like, ‘Man, we did it. We’re here. Let’s just keep winning.’”
That toughest task is next to come. Buckley takes its perfect season into the championship game against the Jets, who needed double overtime in their Semifinal to get past Southfield Christian and extend their nation-best winning streak to 82 straight victories.
That 40-minute classic left Buckley and Lansing Christian waiting a little longer to finish the night. But the Bears were more than ready when they got their chance.
Buckley led for all but 16 seconds during the final 27 minutes against the Pilgrims (19-7), yet by only two after senior Nick Jamieson’s 3-pointer pulled them to within 61-59 with 1:03 to play. But the Bears closed on a 7-2 run making 7 of 8 free throws while Lansing Christian connected on only one shot in four attempts while trying to catch up over that final stretch.
“I thought that might be a problem,” Buckley coach Blair Moss said of the delay. “But these guys came right out. I said let’s go get them, let’s attack them. We’re not scared of anybody. We’ve been doing it all summer long, all fall, and I’m so proud of these guys because they took it right to them.”
Harris led with 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Cade added 13 points and nine rebounds. Guard Joey Weber, another junior, added 10 points and six boards.
Lansing Christian said good-bye to a strong senior group, with center Preston Granger leading one more time with 15 points and eight rebounds, Forrest Bouyer adding 13 points and Matt Havey scoring 10. All five starters will graduate this spring, but having brought the Pilgrims to their second Semifinal in five seasons.
“I met with them in August … and said what do you want to do?” Lansing Christian first-year coach Chris Mustaine said. “I’m brand new, this is a senior-heavy team. What do you want to do? What do you want to accomplish? Do we want this to be fun, or what are our goals?
“And they laid it out. They said we want to play at Breslin. We want to be the best possible team we can be, and they have spent every day since that day in August trying to do that, all the way up to today. Even in the middle of the fourth quarter, we said how can we get better? And they did; we just came up a couple shots short, a couple missed free throws short of having a shot at it at the end.”
For Buckley, the biggest test is yet to come. But the Bears were looking forward to that challenge already late Thursday night.
“We came down here and we talked,” Moss said, “and we said we’re not going to go home yet.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Buckley’s Ridge Beeman (30) tries to direct a shot around the outstretched arms of Lansing Christian’s Forrest Bouyer. (Middle) The Pilgrims’ Matt Havey (3) pushes the ball upcourt.
When Cheboygan hosts Ogemaw Heights next week to kick off a new boys basketball season, those attending will see something special.
And really, for Cheboygan and its opponents, it’s nothing new. It’s been going on for five decades.
The special part? Scott Hancock, junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach, is starting his 47th year coaching at the school. Forty-five of those years have been in the same role he has this season.
“It really just means I’m getting old, but I feel very fortunate to be able to do something that I love for this long,” Hancock, himself a Cheboygan product of 1976, reflected on his tenure. “To be honest, I never really thought about how long I would do it. It’s just something I love doing, so I never really put a number on how long I would do it.”
As the campaign starts, though, he has thoughts of coaching high school basketball for six and possibly seven decades before he hangs it up. He has coached his sons — Nick, who owns the Cheboygan career steals record; and Brian, the leader in career made 3-pointers — and now he’s looking forward to the possibility of coaching his two grandchildren, Landon Gahn and Lincoln Hancock.
“Well, all I can say is I have a grandson that is 3 years old, and I would love to hang around coaching until he graduates,” Hancock said of how long he thinks he’ll stay in coaching. “I have loved every year.
“I have coached with a lot of great coaches who are all great friends to this day.”
Included among those coaches are his two sons, who served as assistants for Cheboygan, and Jason Friday, the current varsity coach who also played for Hancock during the early 1990s – a time when Hancock briefly stepped in to fill a varsity coaching vacancy after the sudden departure of the previous head coach.
Friday, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, is not at all surprised his former coach is still in the game. It became a factor in Friday’s decision to take over the boys program three years ago.
“If you're a boy who grew up in Cheboygan, there's a good chance that Scott coached you in something,” Friday said. “He has a grandson who is in eighth grade, and he wants to coach him.
“So yes, I knew he was going to be around for several more years.”
And next week, Friday will be thrilled to have Hancock alongside him on the court as Cheboygan opens up with the Falcons.
“Today, I don't look at Scott as one of my former varsity coaches — he's a friend,” Friday said. “We're friends more than anything, and that makes coaching even more fun for me.
“Most importantly, having someone on the bench that you can trust is invaluable.”
Hancock, who was helping with the boys program when Friday was coaching the Cheboygan girls team, began expecting to coach with his former player some time ago.
“I was very fortunate to have both my sons be assistant coaches for our varsity program,” said Hancock, who also has served decades coaching baseball and keeping stats for the football program. “But as far as being head coach, I always thought Jason would take over at some time.
“It’s awesome to have a former player running our program, but it is no surprise,” he continued. “Jason has always been a student of the game and is very detailed, and what he does, our program is in great hands.”
The mutual trust the coaches share has really benefited the Cheboygan student-athletes.
“I think it is important to have a JV coach who the head coach can trust that he has bought in to all of the beliefs of the head coach’s program,” Hancock noted. “Being loyal to your varsity coach and doing what’s best for your program is the most important aspect of JV coaching.
“And, getting kids to buy in to what it takes to play the game the right way.”
That’s one of the strengths Hancock brings to the basketball program, Friday singled out.
“Coach Hancock does a tremendous job teaching the fundamentals, but also does a great job communicating with the boys, making each one feel valued, even those who don't play as much,” Friday said. “He's at every practice.
“If there's an emergency and I need to step out for a minute and put my AD hat on, he can run practice and we don't miss a beat,” Friday continued. “He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and is a coach anyone would love on their bench.”
Hancock, who assists another former player, Kevin Baller, coaching the baseball team, has no thoughts of getting back into a varsity coaching position.
“I have no plans to coach at the varsity level, and the reason is because I have the best of both worlds by coaching JV,” said Hancock, who sees the 3-point shot as the biggest change in the game during his tenure. “Every coach that I have worked for lets me be involved with the varsity, so really I get to be involved in both.”
Friday recalls wishing as a player that Hancock had stayed at the helm when he took over temporarily. But, he loves having him coach with him today.
“After our junior season, we were told he was going back to JV,” Friday said. “We tried to convince him to stay for one more year, but he wanted to go back.
“There's no way I could be varsity basketball coach and athletic director without having a JV coach like Scotty.”
Off the court successes in life are just as importance as athletic endeavors, Hancock indicated. In fact, those give him the most pride.
“Probably helping kids with off-the-court issues makes me feel better than anything,” he said. “Also hearing from the kids that I’ve coached after they graduate and how much they enjoyed their JV year.”
There aren’t many – if any – parent, player or community member names on a complaint list from Hancock’s first five decades, and there’s not likely to be any more in however many years are ahead.
“When you’ve coached in the same small town for nearly 50 years, you’d expect to have a few people upset with you, but not Scotty,” said Friday. “You can’t find a person who says something bad about him.
“He’s extremely well-respected,” he continued. “You absorb his passion and love of the game just by being around him, and all of Cheboygan should be thankful (for) how much he's done for our community.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Cheboygan assistant boys basketball coach Scott Hancock offers some pointers during a scrimmage last week. (Middle) Hancock, second from left, confers last season with assistant Matt Mylnarchek, head coach Jason Friday and player Dylan Balazovic. (Photos courtesy of Jared Greenleaf/Cheboygan Daily Tribune.)