By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
It would be easy to look back at Belvidere’s first-ever NIC 10 boys’ basketball championship last year and call it a once-in-a-lifetime moment. A number of people around the area are ready to write it off as such.
But the Bucs don’t want to hear any of that. They know they lost a lot off that team from last year, but the players who are back, combined with a talented group of newcomers, has Belvidere poised to defend their title very competitively.
“We’re a work in progress,” Belvidere Head Coach Aaron Pearson said. “I want to keep learning and growing as a group, and I think the second half of the season, we’ll get better.”
That is a scary thought, as Belvidere throttled Rockford Guilford and Freeport on the road in back-to-back nights to open the conference season 2-0. And that all starts with the players who are back.
First, is the returning conference MVP Joe Byers. Byers is a jack-of-all-trades for the Bucs, controlling the glass, hitting deep threes, and even competing down low, as evident by an athletic alley-oop dunk against Guilford.
Byers does a great job of attacking, when needed. Many players returning for their senior year as an MVP would be likely to force shots. But Byers does what is needed, and is OK if others score, as long as someone is scoring.
Second, is senior point guard Maurice Jackson. He appears to be cutting down the turnovers, but he is also making it a point to get his teammates involved. He leads the team in scoring, but is doing it efficiently, taking and making the shots that are there.
“It’s going to be real key,” Pearson said about his stars’ efficient play. “We know a lot of teams are going to try and stop Jackson and Byers, and the fun part about that is they are both unselfish.”
That really helps when you add a player like junior Colton Bahling to the team. Bahling was a star at the sophomore level, the go-to guy for his team. It would be easy for a guy like that to get lost with two great seniors, but they are making sure he is able to contribute, knowing he is going to be a key part of the team.
“We know Colton Bahling is a heck of a basketball player,” Pearson said. “He’s a junior, but last year he had 30 probably five or six times at the sophomore level. He’s trying to find his role on the team. We want him to score and take the ball to the hole.”
And it doesn’t end there. Ron Paris looks like the kind of athlete who will pose match-up problems. Tyler Lass is playing well as a rebounder and enforcer. Erick Bandy is a senior transfer who can shoot the ball. And even a sophomore like Deonte Barnes is contributing big plays on the floor.
It leads to a bright future for Belvidere basketball, showing they have staying power after winning the conference next year. They will be a top team for years to come.
But right now, the Bucs are concerned with defending their title. And if those newcomers continue to play well in their roles, senior stars like Byers and Jackson could very well lead them to another title.
“We know we are a young team at the varsity level with our experience,” Pearson said. “So, we want to find the extra guys and get them going early, and we’ll lean more on Joe and Maurice as the game goes on.”
Posted Dec. 11, 2013