by nathan oster
The Greybull Buffs will open the season this weekend with three games in two days at the Herder Classic in Glenrock. The Buffs play Wright at 6:30 p.m. Friday before playing Saturday games against Lusk at 8:30 a.m. and Tongue River at 2:30 p.m.
“We want to get better in all facets of the game, from the first game against Wright to the last game against Tongue River,” said Coach Jim Prather, whose team went 24-5 and finished third in 2A last year.
While it’s never easy to replace three starters (Paul Stewart, Kason Clutter and Payton Gonzalez), the Buffs have the ingredients in place for another successful campaign, headed by their two returning starters, Ryan Sylvester and Treston Tracy. A third player, Calder Forcella, also has experience as a starter.
The first week of practice went very well, according to the coach, who said it’s “100 percent due to the kids and their involvement in our program. So many of the ones we have out are mainstays of our summer program. They have put in a lot of time, and early on, it’s showed.”
Tracy, at 6-5, is the team’s tallest player. He led the team in scoring, 14.9 points per game, ranked second in rebounding, with 6.7 caroms per game, and was the team’s most proficient foul shooter in addition to being a threat from behind the arc. The numbers made him an easy choice for all-conference and all state. His defense has “come a long ways, as well,” Prather said, calling him “a force around the basket.”
The arrival of Jordan Jackson, who checks in at 6-4, will give the Buffs their own “Twin Towers.” A junior, Jackson comes to Greybull from Lusk, a school with a strong basketball tradition. “You can tell he knows his way around the court,” said Prather, describing Jackson as a “very athletic player” and “a great complement to what Treston does really well.
“Jordan can play on the perimeter and is athletic enough he can guard away from the hoop, but at the same time, he’s a quick jumper and is great on the boards. For the first time in a long time, we have two legitimate post players.”
Cade Dooley, a sophomore, and Keegan Jenness, a senior, are the other frontcourt players listed on the first varsity roster. Jenness, at 6-2, got varsity minutes last year and has improved as a player. Dooley, also 6-2, was a standout on the JV squad last year.
Sylvester, who made honorable mention all-conference a season ago, is a senior and the leader of the backcourt. A starter, he averaged 5.9 points per game, shot a solid 50 percent from two-point range and had 60 steals, third most on the team.
“On a roster full of players committed to basketball, nobody has put in as much time as Ryan to become a better player,” said Prather. “He’s quick — he was a member of last year’s 4×100 relay team that got second in the state — and he’s made great progress physically and in his maturation as a player.” Prather also noted the key role Sylvester played in getting the Buffs to state, with 20 points in a win over Thermopolis at the regional tournament.
Forcella started as a sophomore and in roughly half of last year’s games and “is one of those kids we rely on to play a lot of big minutes. He’s played in a lot of big games for us.” Forcella averaged 3 points, 3 rebounds and 1.3 steals and assists per game last year.
With Sylvester expected to play off-guard, the challenge will be finding someone to fill the point guard position manned so capably last year by Kason Clutter. Prather said a committee approach is planned, with several different players filling that role. Zack Zeller will get the nod to begin the season. A junior, he played in all 29 games last year, averaging 1.6 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.
Fabian Davila and Wyatt Nielson, both seniors, round out what should be a strong backcourt for the Buffs. Both saw limited varsity action a year ago, but were solid contributors at the JV level and have improved, Prather said.
One preseason poll has the Buffs ranked No. 3 in 2A, behind only Wyoming Indian and Rocky Mountain. Prather puts no stock in it, saying, “respect isn’t given, it’s earned over the course of the year” and that if anything, it reflects that “we are a program that puts time in above and beyond the confines of the season.
“Our expectations are similar to what they are every year,” he said. “We want to be the best team we can be by the end of the season. As the coach, I want to help them become the best players they can be.”
The Buffs aren’t dwelling on how close they came to winning it all last year, and have adopted the motto that what’s in the past, is in the past, and that their focus needs to be on the future and the opportunities in front of them.
The team’s greatest strength at this point is its chemistry, Prather said. “When you have both talent, which I think we do, and experience, and your strongest attribute as a team is chemistry, I think it’s an indicator that we have an opportunity to do good things.”
The team’s greatest weakness, at this point, may be conditioning. But with every team starting later, it’s a sentiment that will be voiced around the state. “I don’t see us being anywhere close to being ready to play three games in less than two games, but that’s going to be an ongoing battle for us and other teams around the state.
“And we have certain roles that need to be sorted out, too. As much experience as we have coming back, he have room for players with certain skills sets to step forward — who is going to be the defensive stopper? The kid who is relentless on the boards? The kid or kids who want to take the big shot in pressure situations? I think we have kids who would like to play those roles, but those are things that only get accomplished when they do it for real.”