A Year Older, Buckley Sets Aspirations High

December 15, 2016

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 dennischase@charter.net 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.)

'Invaluable' Hancock Nearing Half-Century of Service to Cheboygan Athletics

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

December 2, 2022

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, second from left, confers last season with assistant Matt Mylnarchek, head coach Jason Friday and player Dylan Balazovic. 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 tomspencer@chartermi.net 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.)