Special senior class leads Summit boys basketball into uncertain season
Tigers to open shortened season at home Thursday
In recent months, when it seemed a basketball season might not take place due to pandemic-related closures and restrictions, there was one thought Tigers head coach Jordan Buller always went back to: his senior class.
Buller knows keeping nine seniors on one varsity team is a lot for a high school squad. But after seeing all of the skill sessions and hard work these nine guys put in despite the difficulties of playing basketball during a pandemic, Buller wouldn’t have it any other way.
And he’s connected with them, as they’re the group of kids who were the first to enter the high school as freshmen with him as the established coach. The toughness, grit, dedication and fun they exude while out on the hardwood is something Buller cherishes.
“All you have to do is watch these guys do workouts in the park, dribble the ball on the sidewalk, do things at the rec center with limited time while also being exposed to the general public,” Buller said. ”I feel like the guys did a really great job of finding ways to get better, and they are really pushing through.”
Now that the unprecedented COVID-19 offseason gives way to an abbreviated 14-game season, Buller and his coaching staff have had just 1 1/2 weeks of 5-on-5 basketball to install a new offense and get ready for their season opener versus Fruita Monument at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28.
The Tigers, and other Summit High School sports teams, are able to begin competition this week thanks to a statewide variance permitting Colorado High School Activities Association rules governing practice and play to supersede local county COVID-19 regulations.
As the team returned to the high school hardwood — together for the first time in almost 11 months — Buller was impressed with how senior captain point guard Hector Diaz had blossomed into a more vocal leadership role. Diaz has talked the talk and walked the walk at Tigers practices. The coach said Diaz excels at ball-handling, reading the floor and defenses to get teammates open shots and shooting off the dribble from midrange.
“It’s hard for anyone at practice to stop him if he wants to get a bucket,” Buller said.
The other seniors who comprise this special class with Diaz include the much-improved Marcus Popoff, Tigers football quarterback Cam Kalaf and transfer Tyler Nakos. Buller said the 6-foot-3 Nakos will bring length, confidence and shooting to the team, and the coach said he is proud of how Nakos has improved reading screens on the offensive end. Buller said Kalaf’s physical presence makes a huge difference on the floor, as he does all of the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
Then there’s another talented senior in Nazarie Poliuk. Buller said Poliuk has the kind of shooting skills where, when he’s open, the team is confident he can sink any shot or find a lane to the basket. It’s on the defensive end where Buller expects improvement from Poliuk.
Throw in 6-foot-6 junior Ephraim Overstreet, and Buller is confident the team will have a developed interior post game. Then there will be big, athletic players in seniors Kobe Cortright, Banta Sylla and Andrew Duxbury, who will provide depth, togetherness and energy off the bench.
To Buller, the Tigers achieving their goal of qualifying for the 32-team state tournament — 16 fewer teams than last year — will come down to effective communication on both ends. That’s whether they’re playing aggressive man-to-man defense that “gets after it” or running a new offense where Buller expects the team to work to get the best shot opportunity for the specific group of five players who are out on the floor at a given time.
“It’s fun to watch the guys learn the new system and figure out where the best shot comes from,” Buller said. “A lot of our guys play (the) 2K (video game), where there’s ‘green light’ shots. We talk about that a lot, that if we’re taking a forced shot — a challenged shot — there’s a teammate who there’s a great possibility is open.”
• Jan. 28 vs. Fruita Monument, 6 p.m.
• Jan. 30 vs. Kennedy, 1:15 p.m.
• Feb. 2 vs. Glenwood Springs, 6:15 p.m.
• Feb. 4 at Rifle, 8 p.m.
• Feb. 6 at Battle Mountain, 2:45 p.m.
• Feb. 12 at Palisade, 6:15 p.m.
• Feb. 13 vs. Eagle Valley, 2:45 p.m.
• Feb. 16 at Steamboat Springs, 6:15 p.m.
• Feb. 20 vs. Palisade, 2:45 p.m.
• Feb. 23 vs. Steamboat Springs, 6:15 p.m.
• Feb. 25 vs. Battle Mountain, 6:15 p.m.
• Feb. 26 at Glenwood Springs, 6:15 p.m.
• March 5 vs. Rifle 6:15 p.m.
• March 6 at Eagle Valley, 2:45 p.m.
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