SALAMANCA — With 90 percent of its 2018-19 scoring returning, Adam Bennett says this is the most talented team he’s had approaching his fourth season coaching the Salamanca boys basketball team.
He knows the expectations that come with that kind of statement. But coming off of a 12-9 season, Bennett hopes the Warriors can compete for both the CCAA East I division and the Section 6 Class C2 title.
“They've been working extremely hard in not only the first week but dating back to the spring and summer,” he said. “We had a really solid team camp in the spring, I thought they played very well in summer league and they're working very hard in practice. We know that we have a lot of work that we need to continue to do, but so far they're off to a great start.”
Bennett said the Warriors set high internal expectations, which are the only ones they need to pay attention to this year.
“We have pretty high expectations for ourselves and for us that's the only thing that matters,” he said. “We tried to schedule really tough in the non-league. We're playing some very good teams, a lot of schools that are much bigger than us and our goal is just to continue to work hard every day. If we start getting into what our expectations are or how we want to finish, then we're not taking the process seriously enough.”
Senior guard Aaron George returns as Salamanca’s leading scorer after posting 17 points, four rebounds and 2.6 steals per game last year. He broke out in his first season after sitting out as a sophomore due to transfer rules, coming to Salamanca from Hinsdale.
“I think what Aaron did last year is incredible,” Bennett said. “That was his first year of organized basketball ever and to average 17 points a game in a league that had two sectional champions in it (Allegany-Limestone and Randolph) is really incredible. So we're looking for him to continue to get better. There's so many things that he knows he can work on to get even better at, and from a production standpoint, I don't know what that looks like, but he's a much better player now than he was even at the end of the season and we're excited about that.”
Junior Isaac Brown joins George as returning in the backcourt with some scoring touch (13.5 points, 5 rebounds per game), while senior Jarrett McKenna returns as the starting point guard.
“Isaac's the same way (as Aaron), he's a junior but this is his third year playing varsity basketball,” Bennett said. “He doubled his production last year from his first season and we expect him to continue to grow. He's a better player every time he steps in the gym.
“The other guy I think that's a real catalyst for us, he doesn't get a ton of recognition, but Jarrett McKenna, our point guard. He's another three-year varsity guy and he kind of makes everything go for us. He's not a guy we need to score 15 or 20 a game, but he's a distributor, he leads our team in assists, he's a very good defender and rebounder, he gets to the line more than anybody else.”
Up front, 6-foot-6 junior center Jarod White returns after breaking into the starting lineup in the second half of last season. He along with juniors Lucas McKenna (who has missed the start of practice with an injury suffered in football season), Jarrett Pond and William Crouse give the Warriors some frontcourt depth for the first time under Bennett.
“This is the first year that I've been at Salamanca that we have actual forwards.” Bennett said. “The first three years coaching varsity here, we had guys that are naturally guards playing at the forward position. Now we have some depth there between Jarod White, Lucas McKenna, Jarrett Pond, William Crouse, those are guys that naturally are forwards first, so that's why I think we have a lot of talent. We just have to continue working hard to make sure that our expectations become reality.
“(White) wound up starting for us at the end of last season and I thought he did a really nice job against some good talent ... He played some very, very good players and I thought he held his own. So we expect good things from him this year too.”
Sophomore guards Cole Hedlund and Austin Maybee both make the jump up to varsity this year, as does eighth grader Lucus Brown. Bennett said he didn’t expect an eighth grader to make the team, but is “varsity-ready.”
“I thought there were times, to be honest, in the summer he was our best player on the floor, which is really saying something,” Bennett said. “So he's going to come off the bench for us and play big minutes.
“Jarrett Pond is a guy that's a varsity starting-caliber player that will certainly provide us depth at the forward position,” Bennett added of his bench players. “Two sophomores on this team, Cole Hedlund and Austin Maybee, and again those are both varsity players.
“The great thing about all those guys is not only are they competing for time, they consistently put the team first. They understand that different games they may play more than others, but that doesn't change their work ethic in practice.”
The Warriors will play in a division with Randolph, Silver Creek, Gowanda, Portville and Falconer. Allegany-Limestone, last year’s champions, moved to the West I division. But the Warriors know the path to the title, both in the league and sectionals, likely goes through Randolph.
“We understand Randolph is the team to beat,” Bennett said. “Kevin does such a fantastic job with them, they're the defending sectional champions for I don't know how many years in a row now, so we don't run from that. We know how big of a challenge that is and we certainly have all the respect in the world for them, so whether it's our league or our classification (C2), we have the same classification as them, they're certainly the team to beat and we look forward to the opportunity to play them again and let's see what happens.”
With so much returning to the team, Bennett just wants to see “defensive consistency” when Salamanca gets into game action. The Warriors open with a home game against Springville Dec. 3, then play host to the SHS Tip Off-Tournament Dec. 5-7 featuring Eden, Clymer and Cattaraugus-Little Valley.
“If you look at our top guys and certainly our projected starters, everybody has varsity experience, they've played at this level and they know what it takes,” he said. “So as long as we work consistently hard, which they've done for years, as long as we continue to do that, we think we'll be OK.”
Schedule (all games 7:30 p.m., unless otherwise indicated):
3 — Springville
5 — Eden (SHS Tip-Off Tournament, First Round)
7 — Clymer or Cattaraugus-Little Valley (SHS Tip-Off Tournament, Second Round), 4:30 or 6 p.m.
11 — at Allegany-Limestone
13 — Royalton-Hartland
19 — at Hamburg
21 — Franklinville, at St. Bonaventure (Joe Decerbo Memorial IAABO Tournament First Round)
22 — Ellicottville or Portville, at St. Bonaventure (Joe Decerbo Memorial IAABO Tournament Second Round)
7 — Randolph (Beat Cystic Fibrosis Game)
10 — Portville
14 — at Falconer
17 — Silver Creek
22 — at Lake Shore
23 — at Gowanda
30 — at Randolph
3 — at Portville
6 — Falconer
10 — at Silver Creek
13 — Gowanda (Senior Night)
20 — at Ellicottville