CONNORVILLE - Jay Morris arrived at Buckeye Local three years ago with a simple plan, build a solid program and turn Panthers basketball teams into winners.
Year 1 was rather uneventful. So uneventful that the Panthers managed one victory. Last season saw a drastic improvement, coming out of the blocks strong and posting a 9-12 record. Early indications are as simple as Morris' plan and that is it appears to be working.
"Last year, we had eight different players as our leading scorers throughout the season. That's an oddity for a high school team, but that enabled a lot of guys to get feel for what it's like at the varsity level," Morris said.
"This year will the third year that some of our seniors have played for me, so they know what we are trying to do here and what we are talking about. We have six seniors that are here for their third year and two other that came out this year.''
His returning lot includes the next four top scorers, leading rebounder and the third and fourth players on that rebounding list.
"Six of eight seniors are returning lettermen and along with (junior) Brennan Czuchran, with have seven lettermen returning and that's pretty good considering with graduated six players. Those seven will be playing the majority of the time. We have already spoken with the other kids and they know what their roles are."
That talented senior group includes the leading rebounder from a year in 6-foot-3 forward Johnny Rozenek. He averaged 5.5 rebounds and 7.4 points per outing.
Along with Rozenek, the senior lettermen list includes 5-10 guard Caleb Agnew (111 points, 85 assists), 6-foot forward Shane Duncan, 5-11 guard Dylan Williams, 6-6 forward Tommy Hamilton and 6-1 wing Kyle Michalo. The latter averaged 8.2 points for game and converted 32 3-pointers.
Buckeye's roster includes two other senior players with 5-10 guard Austin Marshall and 6-2 wing Braden Martin.
Czuchran heads a class of juniors that should be very important down the stretch for the Panthers. Czuchran has been a starter in each of his first two years and is one of the area's top underclassmen. The 6-3 wing finished last season with 190 points,78 rebounds, 25 assists and 17 steals.
Adding to the junior contingent are 6-2 forward Jonathan Borkoski, 6-0 post Mike Carducci, 6-0 wing Cory Donahue and 6-1 post Devan Pyciak.
Five sophomores will be seeing the bulk of their action with the jayvees, but will be available to move up are 6 -0 wing Ryan Faulkner, 6-1 wing Tom Fish, 6-1 post Logan Dehnart, 6-0 point guard Tyler Miller and 6-1 post Damion Beall.
"We have 18 varsity and jayvees on the roster and we return four starters from last year. In the past, it wasn't uncommon for me to use as many as 12 players in a game, but this year, the bulk of the attention will be on those seven.
"We are looking for our kids to get better every day as individuals, both on and off the court, and that will make us better as a team. Our motto last year was 'Team Panther' and that's what we are looking for this year, more team and less individual.
"We are very happy this year to have a freshmen team. Not a lot of schools can have freshmen teams around the valley, but we have 10 freshmen out that will get to play a full freshmen schedule."
Buckeye's freshman squad includes: Brandon Bake, Nathan Bloom, Dallas Burress, Chris DiCenzo, Dylan Dokes, Chayce DuFrasne, Ryan Moffo, Mason Patterson, Jacob Savage and Jason Worrell.
Morris returns with a strong staff with veteran coach Joe Soos back as his varsity assistant, Greg Haberfield will be coaching the jayvee squad and Chris Heaton will be running the freshmen program.
Buckeye has made a few changes to its schedule this year with Oak Glen no longer on the slate and adding a big middle-of-the-holidays run that has the Panthers playing three straight nights. They play host to Minerva on Dec. 27, then take part in the Meadowbrook Holiday Tournament on Dec. 28-29 along with Morgan and Monroe Central.
Dec. 6 - at Steubenville
Dec. 7 - at Union Local
Dec. 11 - at Indian Creek
Dec. 14 - Martins Ferry
Dec. 18 - at St. Clairsville
Dec. 27 - Minerva
Dec. 28-29 - at Meadowbrook Tournament
Jan. 4 - Edison
Jan. 8 - Harrison Central
Jan. 11 - at Bellaire
Jan. 12 - at Weir
Jan. 16 - Union Local
Jan. 18 - Indian Creek
Jan. 22 - at Martins Ferry
Jan. 25 - St. Clairsville
Jan. 29 - at Edison
Feb. 1 - at Harrison Central
Feb. 5 - Bellaire
Feb. 8 - Weir