GREEN One of the most successful seasons in the history of Green Bulldogs boys basketball came to an end sooner than veteran head coach Mark Kinsley and his team would have liked.
But a 55-42 loss to Federal league rival Canton McKinley in the Canton Division I district final did little to diminish the successes of a second straight 20-win season and an outright Federal League title. Those successes, especially the latter one, remind Kinsley of just how far the program and especially the team's seniors have come over the past four years.
"This class went from finishing last in the Federal League as freshmen to winning two league titles, a district title – (the) first in school history – and playing in a regional final (last season)," Kinsley said. "Their biggest contribution to the program was how they put everyone's interest before their own. They are very unselfish. They accepted the underclassmen. At times, these seniors took a back seat while an underclassmen lead us in scoring. They always put the team ahead of their personal stats."
The teams' stats, especially individual scoring averages, bear out that egalitarian approach. Senior standout Garrison Keeslar, who missed a chunk of the season due to injury, led the way with 10.8 points per game, but for a Walsh University recruit on a 22-3 team, it would be normal for a star player to average much more than that.
Keeslar shared the scoring load and the spotlight with underclassmen and fellow seniors alike and was joined atop the scoring list by Zack Oddo (9.9 ppg) and Donovan O'Neil (9.7 ppg),
The result was a 22-3 record, 11-1 league mark and plenty of big moments. Although two of the team's losses came to McKinley, the first was without Keeslar and Green was able to avenge that loss and secure the league title outright win a home win over McKinley later in the season before the other Bulldogs won the rubber match in the postseason.
"We had a great year. Winning the outright Federal League Championship was an outstanding accomplishment," Kinsley said. "We feel we didn't play our best in the district final. "McKinley played well and they were the better team that day."
What Kinsley noted, and what anyone who watched or followed Green this season saw, was the consistency with which the Bulldogs played. They never lost consecutive games, they rarely had down stretches on either end of the court and they were largely able to play their game against every opponent.
There were outliers, like the tournament game in which GlenOak did everything but deflate the basketball in order to slow down the game and forced Green to grind out a 28-20 win to advance, but for the most part, Green imposed its style of play.
"We prepared for each opponent the same way no matter what their record was and the balance that this team had throughout the season," Kinsley replied when asked what defined this particular team. "We had eight different players lead us in scoring this season."
That last note bodes well for next season, as much as the members of this year's team likely will be thinking about the just-concluded campaign for a while longer.
When the disappointment of the district final loss fades, among the markers that will be left from the year are the legacy of the outgoing seniors and the support shown by the students, teachers, staff and community in another historic season for Green boys basketball
"The toughness and the unselfishness with which they played ... their leadership will be a model for teams to emulate in the years to come," Kinsley said of the seniors. "The student body and community support was awesome for our players. Our players really feed off the energy and enthusiasm our fans bring to the gym each night. We really appreciated the support they gave us."
Among the lessons left by the past two seasons are how hard it is to get to the top of the Federal League and how difficult it is to reach the higher levels of the postseason that Federal League rivals such as Lake and Jackson have in previous seasons. Those lessons will be with the team's returning players, who now have a chance to take they relay baton and start the next leg of the race.