Four returning starters give Buffs hope

By: 
Nathan Oster

The Greybull Buffs came within a basket of qualifying for last year’s State 2A Basketball Championships. As disappointing as that 50-48 regional loss to Tongue River was, coaches and players found comfort in the fact that the core of the team would get another shot.

Ben Kraft was the only senior who saw quality minutes in Riverton and his combination of scoring (11.3 ppg), defense and leadership will be tough to replace. But on the sunny side, the Buffs return everyone else who contributed to that regional squad, including seniors Jesus Hernandez and Isaac Thueson. 

Hernandez, a forward/center, averaged 8.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while Thueson went for 10.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game

In terms of sheer numbers, Coach Logan Burningham and his assistant James Armel have a lot to work with this year.  The roster stands at 26, led by a senior cast that in addition to Thueson and Hernandez and a third returning starter in Skyler Jackson also includes Avery Swiftney, Noah Zeller, Gaven McColloch and Camryn Chapman.

The team’s fourth returning starter, Brant Miller, leads the junior class, which also includes last year’s first-player-off-the-bench in Irving Castro, Weston Haley, Johnny Coyne and T.J. Davis (who missed last season with an injury).

Cale Wright, Aiden Reece, Cade Cooper, Beto Diaz-Rios, Ethan Goton, Josh Lopez, Taven Miller and Jacob Storeim are the sophomore team members. A talented freshman squad that steamrolled most of its eighth-grade foes last year provides hope for the future:  Carlos Rodriguez, Coby Henderson, Joel Miller, Christian Nelson, Steven Ebright, Xavier Stevens, Isaak Gaytan and Tyler Searfoss.

Burningham is not ready to announce starters, but said Thueson, Hernandez, Castro, Miller, Jackson, Chapman, Wright, Reece and Cooper figure to see the most playing time, although not all of them will be available for the first tournament due to either ineligibility, COVID-19 quarantining or an insufficient number of practices.

“That means our younger kids will get a chance to get some varsity minutes and show what they can do,” said Burningham.

So far, he likes what he’s seeing from his young squad.  “We’ve done a pretty good job of picking up where we left off last year,” he said. “We lost Ben and he was one of our primary scorers — replacing his contributions is going to be the challenge.”

Burningham said he believes Thueson and Hernandez are each capable of scoring at a higher clip and that Castro is a better offensive player.

As a team, Burningham is focused on two very telling stats.  The Buffs were among the worst shooting teams in 2A last year, finishing third from the bottom among 2A schools in both field goal percentage (33.5%) and free throw percentage (50.5%).

“If we can pick up by even 5% in each of those areas, we’ll be around the 50-point mark more consistently and give ourselves a way better chance to win games.”

While their offense occasionally let them down, the Buffs ranked among 2A’s best in rebounding — averaging 30.5 per game which ranked fourth in the state — and defense — surrendering 47.3 points per game which ranked fifth.  Burningham said this year’s team has the potential be even better defensively.

 

Schedule

The Buffs will open the season Friday in Glenrock with JV and varsity games against Wright starting at 12:20 and 2 p.m., respectively, followed by a JV game against Wheatland at 4:30 p.m. and a varsity contest against Glenrock at 6 p.m. The Buffs beat Wright 65-41 and Glenrock 48-44 at last year’s Coal Miner’s Classic.

The two games in Glenrock will be the closest thing to a tournament that the Buffs see in the regular season. Counting the two this weekend, the updated schedule lists 18 regular season games, eight of which will be played at Buff Gym.  It should be noted that at least two of those opponents, Wyoming Indian and St. Stephens, have yet to announce if they are going to play ball due to COVID-19 concerns.

The season is scheduled to end in the same fashion that volleyball did — with a conference tournament (Feb. 25), followed two days later (Feb. 27) by a regional event in Riverton to determine seedings for the two-day state tournament in Casper (March 5-6).

As things stand now, the Buffs would need to outlast two teams from the Northwest to punch their ticket to state.  They share a quadrant with Rocky Mountain, Riverside and Shoshoni — and the Grizz return nearly everyone from last year’s team and are top-ranked in the 2A preseason poll.

Burningham isn’t conceding anything to them just yet, however. “

“I feel like with the experience we have coming back, we can be competitive in every game,” he said.