PENDLETON — Gone from Pendleton is arguably the greatest center in the school’s history, the record breaker, the rock wall.
Gone is play-making dynamo at guard, the lightning passer and slam dunker, the East Oregonian’s reigning Player of the Year.
Gone too are the other six seniors that graced the Buckaroo boys’ basketball team’s roster last winter, graduated right along with Bryan Beard and Deon Davis.
From the rubble of the 2011-12 varsity lineup, though, a new group has emerged from the shadows, led again by a point guard and a post. Senior Quincy George and junior Joel Boozer highlight a group once boxed out by the depth and talent of that departed senior class. They’ve gone from the bodies that filled out the bench to the new go-tos.
It’s their team now.
“We knew coming in we’d take some bumps and bruises early on, just because going from JV to varsity is a big jump and learning to play at that level and finish games is difficult to do,” Pendleton’s third-year head coach David Norton said.
The Bucks have started league play 2-1 — the only loss a two-pointer to The Dalles Wahtonka a week ago — despite a lineup of five, first-time starters. Of the varsity boys this year, only George saw significant minutes last season.
The 2012-13 crew is a different group, George said. They don’t try to emulate the explosive Bucks of yesteryear, who averaged close to 70 points per game and made the first round of the OSAA playoffs. This team needs every pillar to hold strong to keep the foundation stable.
“Those guys could just change the game like that,” George said with a snap of his fingers. “Get us back the lead or whatever. This year, we’ve really got to work as a team, keep the other team’s baskets down and put a little more effort into everything. All our teammates together.”
George can toss the ball around like Davis, who average six blistering assists per game, but exhibits more of an outside shooting threat instead of driving to the hoop. And Boozer underneath is a completely different animal than the 6-foot-10 Beard, who’s now playing at Oregon Institute of Technology. Boozer is nearly a half foot shorter and uses his speed to score.
Boozer is quick to the hoop on offense and rangy on defense. Beard could just throw his arms up and block out the sun. Watching big-man Beard in action was a humbling experience for Boozer. It came with quite a few lessons.
“To stay on my feet because there’s no way I was going to block him,” Boozer said of practicing against Beard. “I mean, he was 6-10, there’s no way. And him practicing on me helped me a whole lot to know what to handle this year.”
George and Boozer lead the Bucks in scoring with 221 and 217 points so far this year, good for 14.7 and 14.5 per game. The starting guard also leads the team in assists and steals while the post is Pendleton’s top rebounder and blocker.
But this year’s team is more than the two big names. It has to be for Pendleton to have success, Norton said. A revolving door of starters that’s included guards Logan Anderson, Donte Robinson and Zane Schnetzky to complement the Bucks’ other post, Tommy Lane, share time with a slew of specialists on defense. Isaiah Polhamus, Jake Sierra and even recent JV call-up Taylor Hillmick all contribute to the Pendleton project. None could say the same last year.
The Bucks and their newly deepened bench will meet a Hermiston squad back at near-full strength with basketball machine Alex Ortiz finally grooving. The Bulldogs put a 10-game losing streak in the rearview mirror this month and rattled off three straight wins, two in conference play.
The Hermiston revitalization has the Bulldogs tied with Pendleton and The Dalles Wahtonka at 2-1 in the CRC, on the early inside track to conference supremacy. The Bucks won that last year and Hermiston coach Adam Strom isn’t overlooking the first of three meetings between the Umatilla County schools this season.
“They’re more balanced this year with five guys that you have to give some respect to,” Strom said. “They’re deceptively athletic. They’re not as talented as last year but have a little more depth and balance to them that will give us some problems.”
The return of four suspended players has buoyed the Bulldogs’ offense, but done even more for a once victimized defense. The Dawgs improved D’ has them in as good of shape to handle Pendleton’s vast threats as they’ve been all season. In the last four games, Hermiston is allowing an average of 51.5 points per game, more than 11 points fewer than over their first 13 games.
But with any rivalry game, all the records, the numbers and the past performances go out the window. For most of the Bucks, and a few on the Bulldogs’ side as well, today’s clash will be their first true taste of the Hermiston-Pendleton dynamic.
That’s a landmark to remember, even for a group of Buckaroos who’ve already hit so many firsts this season.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.