JACKSON TWP. The Federal League boys basketball race has a lot in common with Northeast Ohio winter weather.
Both will play out over the next few weeks, each is difficult to predict and in both cases, no one is quite sure what the landscape will look like when they come to a close. The Jackson Polar Bears are hoping to be the last team standing when the league race reaches its conclusion, but veteran head coach Tim Debevec knows that it’s still too early to make any definitive proclamations.
"It’s too early to see, just a few games into the league season," Debevec said. "Lake is probably the top team because only team undefeated right now (through the end of the year) and Green’s pretty good, too. We're just looking at one game at a time … we’re young and we’re just trying to take care of business for today."
Jackson suffered an early setback with a surprise loss to GlenOak, a game that came down to the wire and one in which the Polar Bears had a chance to tie it in the closing seconds, only to have a 3-pointer go astray. It was a narrow defeat, but one that could have value going forward.
For a young team with just three players who were a part of the varsity rotation, the loss was a chance to absorb a defeat and see how to respond to it. The response came largely in a win over Canton McKinley shortly before the team’s annual Florida trip and Debevec liked how his team bounced back.
"Against McKinley, they responded … Jaret (Pallotta) had a career night with 30 points , Ethan (Stanislawski) had 19 and (Anthony) Mazzeo had 14. They know they have to lead us and played crucial minutes for a team that won a state title," Debevec said. "The GlenOak game hurt, but you’ve got to move on and the Federal League is still a long season. Give them credit, GlenOak shot over 50 percent and it proved that you can go on the road and if you don’t play well, you can lose."
The league itself has been up and down through the early part of the season, with Green scoring its first-ever win over Canton McKinley at the Memorial Fieldhouse, GlenOak upending Jackson and a few other results that underscored just how wide open the league race is this year.
Jackson’s most recent round of games won’t have a direct impact on the league standings, but they could help set the Polar Bears up for the rest of their league games. The team’s Florida trip was a definite chance to escape the chilly Northeast Ohio winter weather, have fun in the sun and play against top teams from around the country.
"It’s good for us. We’re young team and to have our coaching staff and 12 players get to play three games down there and play some other guys to see where they fit in," Debevec said. "It’s a business trip too, six nights, five days, so we have fun and try to get better."
The best byproduct from the trip, as recent seasons have shown, could well be the bonding time and team chemistry can develop for a team away from home. If a young Jackson team can build up its bonds off the court and find out more about itself on the court, it could come home well-positioned to take on the remaining three-fourths of its league slate.
"You get a lot of stuff from trips like that and not a lot of high school programs get to go to Florida. People ask why you go to Florida, or why do you go out of town, but it’s not about a lot of X’s and O’s, it’s more the chemistry you get. You can have 100 set plays to run, but if you don’t have chemistry, they’re not going to really work," Debevec said. "We’re starting getting some chemistry … we a lot of guys who were playing other (fall) sports or were hurt, but we’re trying see where we’re at before the league really sets in for us in January and February."
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