By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
BUCKLEY – The Buckley Bears are hoping pizza parties become a regular occurrence this winter.
As an incentive to improve defensively, Buckley basketball coach Blair Moss is rewarding his players with pizza parties if they can hold opponents under 40 points.
Through three games, all impressive wins, the Bears have earned one party, beating McBain Northern Michigan Christian 86-39 last Thursday.
“He (Moss) knows we can put up points in a hurry,” junior standout Denver Cade said, “but he wants to see us lock down the other team.”
So far, added emphasis on the team’s man-to-man defense seems to be working. The up-tempo Bears are averaging 92 points offensively, and surrendering 49.
“I know we can score,” Moss said. “That’s not the problem. The problem is locking it down on defense. On nights we’re not making our shots, we’re going to need to have stops (on defense). Since summer, that’s what I’ve been preaching. We’ve talked about it and worked hard on it.”
Focusing on that facet of the game is a priority because Buckley has high aspirations after making a run to the MHSAA Class D Regional Finals last March with a lineup comprised of four sophomores and a freshman. The Bears nearly won the Regional, taking Bellaire to the wire – the teams were tied at 55 with just over a minute to go – before losing 61-57.
“We were young and, as a coach, you wonder how your players are going to handle that kind of pressure,” Moss said. “We threw the ball away in the last couple minutes and that really hurt us. That’s being young. But I think we’ve learned from that.”
That loss became a motivator for the Bears.
“We used it as fuel,” junior Austin Harris said. “We started working even harder after that.”
In the months that followed, players hit the weight room and were in the gym as often as possible. Three starters were heavily involved with AAU. In addition, Moss set up a busy summer schedule that had the Bears traveling all over the state. They competed in scrimmages at Northwood University, Central Michigan University, Ferris State University, as well as local gyms, including Cadillac, where they saw two of the north’s best teams in McBain and Manton. All told, Buckley played nearly 40 games, almost all against larger schools.
“Playing that type of competition has helped prepare us for what’s ahead,” Cade said.
The 6-foot-3 Cade is listed as one of the top 100 players in the state by the Detroit Free Press. He’s off to a solid start, averaging 26 points and eight rebounds a game.
“He’s a winner,” Moss said. “He’s my general on the floor.”
The 6-foot-3 Harris is talented as well. He’s averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He registered a triple-double in Tuesday’s 100-59 win over Suttons Bay. Harris plays on the wing, but also moves to the point on occasion. Moss would like to play him strictly on the wing to increase his scoring opportunities and balance the floor with Cade on the opposite wing.
Cade and Harris are joined in the lineup by juniors Joey Weber and Brock Beeman and sophomore Ridge Beeman. Weber, who also plays the point, and Ridge Beeman average 11 points; Brock Beeman averages nine per game.
All four juniors were on varsity as freshmen.
“You might get one of these groups every 10 years or so,” Moss said. “You’re just so thankful. They’re all so coachable – and they’re just as good in the classroom as they are on the court. They’ve been playing together since they could walk. They’re in the gym all the time. Their basketball IQ is very high.
“How many coaches start four freshmen at the high school level? I knew we were going to take our lumps that year. We were not very physical, but I knew we were talented enough that we could be in every game.”
The Bears finished 11-11 in 2014-15 and improved to 16-7 a year ago. They now have their sights set higher, starting with winning the Northwest Conference.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Cade warned.
Frankfort, heading into Thursday night’s game, has won 26 league games in a row and returns two top players in juniors Jaylon Rogers and Matt Loney. Glen Lake - bolstered by Lake City transfer Cade Peterson, the quarterback on the Lakers’ MHSAA Finals football team – is 2-0 and seems primed for a breakout campaign. And then there’s Benzie Central, which has given Buckley fits in recent seasons.
“This is the toughest I’ve seen this league,” Frankfort coach Reggie Manville said. “And what’s really scary is that all those teams at the top of the league have most of their starters coming back next season.”
Moss previously coached the Benzie Central varsity for seven seasons. After stepping down, he took two years off from coaching and then re-emerged at Buckley. He’s now in his fourth season.
“I still had that drive, that urge to coach,” he said. “I missed working with kids. I missed the camaraderie with the coaches.”
Todd Kulawiak, the elementary school principal at Buckley, reached out to Moss. The two have a connection – they were former standouts at Benzie under coach Will Lynch and are the two all-time leading scorers in school history. Kulawiak was also an all-state distance runner under Blair’s father, Pete.
Although the Bears struggled the first couple years under Moss, the coach could see what he had coming. Now he’s pushing that group, and himself, so they can reach their potential.
“We’re very capable if we keep focused, keep our heads on straight and keep working hard,” he said.
That drive to improve was a major reason he put together such an aggressive schedule in the summer. He wanted his team to face quality competition, and he was pleased with the results.
“It seemed like we were getting better all the time,” he said.
As an offshoot, Moss also wanted to get his players exposure, especially in camps at college venues.
“They deserve it,” he said. “I want (college coaches) to see our kids. It’s like I told Denver’s father, ‘You’re talking $100,000 for a college education. If he puts the time in now, bingo.’”
Buckley is not particularly big – “We’re mostly a five-guard lineup,” Cade said – so the Bears like to use their athleticism and push tempo.
“With Coach Moss, it’s go, go, go,” Cade said. “If the (MHSAA) had a shot clock, we would be one of the teams that would benefit from it the most because we find a way to get quick, quality shots.”
Opposing coaches have noticed.
“They’re extremely good shooters from the perimeter, and that sets up their offense,” Manville said. “You have to defend that shot. Now, they’re all starting to penetrate to the basket and dish, which makes them more difficult to guard. And if you want to help defend, you’ve got a problem.
“The other problem is they run. They want to score a lot of points. They scored 100 points Tuesday night. Scoring 100 is difficult nowadays. They must have been really efficient. And they’re getting better defensively. I know that’s something they’re working on.”
If Buckley needs size, the Bears can turn to 6-5 Nick Kuhn, who is still developing his game. He had eight points off the bench in a season-opening 91-50 win over Bear Lake.
Buckley’s ability to score, combined with its game experience and chemistry, gives the Bears a good base. But there’s another strength that’s just as important to the team’s success, Harris said.
“Our team has a lot of heart,” he said. “We play really, really hard.”
So now the goal is to play off those strengths while continuing to work on other aspects, like defense. It could make the difference in winning a league title and advancing along the March Madness tournament trail.
“Everybody at that next level can score,” Harris said. “It really comes down to who can play defense.”
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] 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) Buckley’s Ridge Beeman (30) works to gather a loose ball against McBain Northern Michigan Christian on Dec. 8. (Middle) Joey Weber (5) blocks off a driving Bobcats player during the 86-39 win. (Photos courtesy of the Buckley athletic department.)
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.