JACKSON TWP. Keeping a successful high school basketball program going means always being on the lookout for the next standout player.
For teams aspiring to compete for state championships, finding more than one of those standouts is a near necessity. The Jackson Polar Bears have won two state championships in the past decade, but in the years between those titles, they’ve had other strong postseason runs and been in the mix for the Federal League title on a near-annual basis.
This season’s edition of the Polar Bears has gotten itself off to a solid start in large part thanks to new faces and other, more familiar ones who have grown into bigger roles.
"We don’t have a lot of variety experience, but I’m happy with our progress," Debevec said. "Anthony Mazzeo, Ethan Stanislawski and Jaret Pallotta are our three returning guys who really have varsity experience, but we’ve had other guys step up.
One of those players is junior center Will Hyde, who has made an impact this season with his scoring and rebounding. Hyde is in his first season as a varsity starter and made his mark in a loss to GlenOak in early December. According to Debevec, while Hyde may be a new name for some area basketball fans, those within the program have seen his progress over the past few years.
"Will’s one of those kids a lot of people don’t know about. He worked hard in offseason … he put a lot of time in the offseason. He was starting JV last year and now he’s starting varsity," Debevec said. "From playing AAU basketball, to NST (strength and conditioning), to the weight room, he’s one of our most improved players. He may have surprised some people, but it’s no surprise to our coaching staff.
Hyde’s 18-point outing against GlenOak flashed the promise the coaching staff hopes to see this season and beyond and given that the best players on last year’s title team were post players now competing on the college level, adding a new post presence is a priority for Jackson.
The GlenOak loss was a learning experience for Jackson and its young roster, given that losing league games has been a rarity over the past few years. The defeat was a chance to taste a bit of blood in their mouths and see how they would respond to defeat.
Part of the response was getting ready for what has become an annual tradition, traveling south to Florida to play in a tournament at Walt Disney World. The trip has proved to be a unifying experience in recent seasons as Jackson faced top teams from across the country in a high-pressure setting, then returned home and was able to keep its momentum going.
With Hyde carving out his role on offense, the coaching staff is hoping to see other players do the same. How quickly that happens remains to be seen, but the pace at which it happens will go a long way toward determining whether or not Jackson can stay in the league race and add another championship to its growing legacy.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB