Bruins coming off 4-18 season, but Buller encouraged by sense of urgency.
WATERFORD MILLS — It might be easy to look past the Bethany Christian boys high school basketball team this coming season — and even easier to look over the Bruins, based on the heights on their roster — but longtime coach Jim Buller sounds primed to go anyway.
Bethany finished just 4-18 last winter, its worst mark in a decade after averaging 12.2 wins over the previous five years.
Further, the Bruins have graduated team leader Caleb Morris, half the team is under 6-foot, and two juniors who averaged a combined 41 minutes per game as sophomores have opted not to return.
But hold on. The Nos. 2 and 3 scorers overall are back in junior guard Sol Brenneman and senior forward Abe Thorne.
Brenneman averaged 12.1 points and a team-pacing 2.0 steals per game last season, while Thorne, who is tied with Joel Gerig as the team’s tallest player at 6-3, netted 9.0 points and a team-best 6.3 rebounds per outing.
“The thing I’m pleased about is the sense of urgency,” said Buller, who is Elkhart County’s all-time boys leader in both wins (368) and seasons (beginning his 35th).
“We’re small in numbers and size, and we realize we won’t walk out on the floor and just out-talent people,” Buller said, “but I really like how this group is approaching it.”
Buller, who did hint at retirement following the 2011-12 season, says he’s “still enjoying practices, still enjoying the camaraderie.”
“Evaluating (the option of retiring) is on a year-to-year basis,” Buller said, “but I will say I like this group of juniors. I wouldn’t mind seeing them through.”
One junior sidelined for the moment is Tristan Clark. The lefty guard is battling a back injury and is expected to miss at least the Nov. 26 season opener at home against Westview.
Q&A WITH BETHANY HEAD COACH JIM BULLER
Q: Talk about the progress of Sol Brenneman and Abe Thorne, the only two players you have back with much varsity experience.
A: “Those are two guys we’re counting on pretty heavily. Sol spent a lot of time playing this summer and clearly seems more focused in his play. He’s been one of our leaders, but now brings a little bit of confidence and toughness that last year might’ve been hopefulness. We’re expecting an awful lot from him, but he has pretty good skills. Abe has a tremendous motor, runs very well for a big man and is developing an outside shooting touch. He’s one of our few guys with size and he’s been pretty strong on the boards. Even though we’ll be surrounding him with four guards, he will not be a true back-to-the-basket post player. He seems more effective facing up, but he’s working hard on his interior play and on his defense.”
Q: Who else is in the mix to start and what do they bring?
A: “Joseph Mumaw really maximized the opportunity he came to by default last year as our JV point guard and has added to his ball-handling this year. He’s a solid ball-handler and outside shooter, but the thing he gives best is his desire to play hard all the time. He never takes a minute off. Abe, Sol and Joe have all set a benchmark for us that if you expect to be out there, you have to work hard at it. The fourth guy pretty locked is Ian Bomberger. He’s emerged as one of those not overly talented players, but will make us better with his effort. He’s another one of those guys who will not be outworked. The question marks are (spots) five through eight. It’s wide open. We have a couple guys seeming to step forward, but I’m not ready to commit to who those will be.”
Q: What might some of the strengths and areas of concern be?
A: “Rebounding will have to be by committee. Defensive rebounding is an area of concern. I think we’ll be a better outside shooting team. We were a collective (25) percent outside the arc last year, and (60) percent at the free throw line. We really struggled to make shots last year. You can have all the offensive structure you want, but if you can’t put that ball inside that rim, it doesn’t matter. I’m confident we’ll be a better shooting team. We’re going to be small, but I like our attitude. We have a lot of 5-9s and a lot of 150s, so we’re going to have to be tenacious.”
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr.
10 Sol Brenneman G 6-0 Jr.
12 Tristan Clark G 5-7 Jr.
14 Ryan Duckworth G 5-7 Jr.
20 Joseph Mumaw G 5-8 Sr.
22 Noah Hochstetler G 6-0 Jr.
24 Nahshone Lora F 6-1 Jr.
30 Abe Thorne F 6-3 Sr.
32 Ethan Miller G 5-11 Jr.
40 Joel Gerig F 6-3 Sr.
42 Ian Bomberger G 5-9 So.
Coach: Jim Buller (368-370 in 34 seasons, all at Bethany).
Assistants: John Mast, Trevor Daugherty.
26 — Westview. 30 — at West Noble.
3 — Lakeland Christian. 7 — at Prairie Heights. 12 — at Howe. 14 — Lakeland. 17 — at Triton. 21 — Bethany Holiday Tourney (Elkhart Christian vs SB Trinity, 10 a.m.; Bethany vs. Lakeland Christian, 11:30 a.m.; consolation 4 p.m.; championship 7:30 p.m.).
7 — at Bremen. 10 — Argos. 23 — FW Canterbury.
1 — FW Blackhawk. 4 — Clinton Christian. 7 — at Elkhart Christian. 13 — at Lakewood Park. 18 — at Jimtown. 22 — LaVille. 25 — Central Noble. 28 — at Fremont.
BETHANY RETURNING LEADERS
Points: Sol Brenneman 12.1, Abe Thorne 9.0.
Rebounds: Thorne 6.3*, Brenneman 3.5.
Assists: Brenneman 1.7, Thorne 1.1.
Steals: Brenneman 2.0*, Thorne 0.5.
* — Denotes also led last season’s team overall.