A new league, a condensed season and all the complications of COVID-19 protocols should make 2021 a challenging campaign for the Salamanca boys basketball team.
But the Warriors are ultimately glad to just be back on the court together. Monday, Feb. 1, marked the first full gathering for coach Adam Bennett’s team since it played in the Section 6 Class C2 semifinal at Jamestown Community College last March.
“First and foremost, I'm ecstatic that we're playing, especially for our three seniors,” Bennett said. “I couldn't be more happy for them and I'm glad that we get to enjoy some time with each other because beyond everything else, I've missed the guys. This is a great team to be around, they're a really fun group, they're easy to coach, they get along great with each other and they compete so hard for their school and their community. Just to be able to spend time with them and get back on the court with them has been a lot of fun so far.”
But as excited as the Warriors were to return to the court, they showed the signs of rust in last week’s return to court.
“That first practice, it was eye-opening in terms of the fact that from a conditioning standpoint, you could tell we were 10 months away from our last action,” Bennett said. “So it's going to be an interesting year in the fact that we have eight practices between our first practice and our first game. In the normal season we have three and a half to four weeks and two or three scrimmages. Now it's about getting our legs underneath us, getting conditioned, we're a team that loves to play fast and push the tempo. We've just got to make sure that we're conditioned well enough to get ready for that first game on Wednesday (Feb. 10 against Randolph).”
In his fifth year as varsity coach (51-36), Bennett will look to build on a breakthrough season in which Salamanca went 15-7 and reached the sectional semifinal.
The Warriors return two starters: a pair of double-figure scorers in senior 6-foot-6 center Jarod White (13.2 points, 8.5 rebounds per game last year) and freshman 6-foot-0 guard Lucus Brown (10 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.4 steals). White made the league first-team all-stars and an all-state honorable mention, while Brown was a league second-team all-star.
Forwards Jarrett Pond and Lucas McKenna join White as the team’s three seniors, while junior guard Cole Hedlund and junior forward Austin Maybee also return from last year’s varsity squad.
Newcomers to the varsity include sophomore guard Andy Herrick and juniors Harley Hoag, Hayden Hoag and R.J. McLarney, all listed at guard/forward.
Salamanca moved to the CCAA West I division after spending recent years in East I. The move puts the Warriors in competition with Olean and Allegany-Limestone, two defending sectional champions, along with Dunkirk, Fredonia and Southwestern.
“It's a tremendous challenge,” Bennett said. “For my money, it's one of the best leagues in Western New York and I'm not just saying the CCAA, I mean the entire section.”
But looking at the young talent in Salamanca’s program, especially in Brown, Bennett felt it was time to embrace a new challenge.
“I felt like we have the team to do it and as we look down the road three or four years, we have Lucus Brown on our team (who) as an eighth grader averaged double-figure scoring,” Bennett said. “He was a good rebounder, good defender. When it's all said and done, he'll be one of the best players in the section. So we have a unique time period with Lucus and we certainly have talent around him where we feel like we want to compete with the best so we can compete with anybody.”
Bennett said the Warriors’ years in East I, playing schools like Randolph, A-L (until last year) and Silver Creek prepared them to play in another tough league. Salamanca scheduled four non-league games against Randolph (preserving a longstanding rivalry) and Ellicottville.
“We have no easy games on our schedule, every game is going to be a challenge and our kids, they're going to embrace that, they talk about it quite a bit and we're just working as hard as we can to prepare us as best we can to compete in those games,” Bennett said.
With White and Brown leading the offense, Bennett thinks the Warriors should have the firepower they need. But he wants to see defense and rebounding as the team opens the season this week.
“I love the way that we played offense, especially late last year and we've seen that carry over in the first two practices here,” he said. “Our guys have skill. We have to get after it on the defensive end, we have to be good in transition, we have to get up and down the floor and we have to rebound the ball. Those are things that we have to do every game regardless of how we're playing offensively. If we defend and we rebound we'll have a chance against anybody, and if we don't defend and don't rebound, anybody can beat us.
“So again, the most important thing when you have eight practice to get ready for your first game is to make sure that we're conditioned well enough to be able to get up and down the floor to play the type of defense that we expect to play, and then get after it on the glass, push the ball in transition and try to get some easy ones that way.”
2021 Salamanca Boys Basketball Schedule
(All games 7:30 p.m. after 6 p.m. JV)
10 — Randolph
12 — Fredonia
15 — at Allegany-Limestone
17 — Dunkirk
22 — Southwestern
26 — at Olean
27 — Ellicottville
2 — at Fredonia
5 — Allegany-Limestone
9 — at Dunkirk
12 — at Southwestern
13 — at Randolph
17 — Olean
19 — at Ellicottville