The timing could not have been better when everything started clicking for the Kaycee High School Buckaroos last year.
Kaycee improved week in and week out, and after finishing 8-2 in conference play landed in the championship game of the 1A East regional tournament, only to face an Upton Bobcats team that had recently dropped from 2A and went 10-0 in conference with a pair wins against the Buckaroos.
After trailing by 19 points, Kaycee rallied to take a late lead against the Bobcats, eventually falling by just four points but sealing a No. 2 seed at the state tournament and playing their best basketball of the season.
With the majority of that team returning, the Buckaroos could be in top form even earlier in the 2019 season, and give every team in the conference a run for their money.
“I think we’ll be competitive,” coach Jason Humble said. “We will miss Hunter Rouse, but we have good ball handlers, we can shoot the ball and rebound. It’s just a matter of bringing it all together and playing good defense.”
That intensity on defense may have been the only thing that separated the Buckaroos from the rest of the 1A teams they faced at state as they went 1-2 in the big tournament.
Wreaking a little havoc on opposing offenses will be a primary focus as they prepare for their first tournament next Friday and Saturday in Wright at the Coal Miners Classic.
“We have to play better defense than we played last year down the stretch,” Humble said. “We need to be more aggressive, get more contact on the ball and play good help defense and team defense.”
The Buckaroos return just two seniors in Jarrett Humble and Dion Ealy, both major contributors the past couple of seasons for Kaycee. That pair should be the primary focus of opposing defenses this season.
Last year saw the emergence of Rhys Stafford and Nathan Largent as big threats on both sides of the ball. The juniors will look to pick up right where they left off last season as juniors.
Fellow junior Ethan Devlin will add experience and offensive firepower as his all around game helped the Buckaroos deliver some big wins throughout the year.
“You can tell the juniors have played a lot,” Humble said. “What’s nice is the kids really came together well as a team playing football. They really bonded on the field and I think they are going to play really well together on the basketball floor. That’s one of the hardest things for a coach to do with a group of kids is get them to bond. So we’ve already got that and that is a big strength.”
Multiple sophomores and freshmen will add depth and should get some quality minutes as the season progresses. The Buckaroos may need that depth this year as they ramp up the defensive pressure and work out the kinks of a new offense.
“It’s a little different on offense than what we have done in the past,” Humble said. “It’s more of a read and react motion offense. You can do a lot of different things off of it. We’ll be able to isolate people in the paint, open up some room to drive it to the hole and gets some of our shooters open.”
The Buckaroos have all the pieces in place for that kind of offense to be successful, but it may be a learning curve as they adjust to the new philosophy.
“Right now they are a little rusty. A lot of them haven’t picked up the basketball for a while,” Humble said. “But I think we have a pretty good group coming back. I think we’ll be right up there in our northeast conference.”