TENNERTON – Buckhannon-Upshur High School head basketball coach Travis Foster’s mantra since taking over the high program in 2017 has been returning it back to respectability.
Foster did that last year as the Bucs went 12-8, posting their first winning season in over a decade. He also had the team ranked for portions of the season and the Bucs picked up a sectional tournament win over Bridgeport.
Now comes that hard part: sustaining that success after the loss of five seniors from last year’s squad, including three of their top four scorers.
Foster said the Bucs have to get better at getting better in the off-season if they want to maintain their success.
“For us to sustain our success, we have to get better with our off-season work,” stated Foster. “I feel our off-season work has declined since COVID-19 began. I think it has put kids in a different mindset. They were in an atmosphere where the world really shut down, and that hasn’t done any favors for them.”
“We are trying to get our off-season going again,” Foster added. “When you build a program, you want to reload and not rebuild. Before COVID, I felt we were in a position where we were reloading. Now I feel like we are rebuilding again, and that is frustrating.”
Despite not being happy with the off-season work, Foster’s Bucs did win a four-team tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina last month.
“That wound up being a really good trip,” stated Foster. “We played during our flex days. It was important to get those guys going since our offseason just wasn’t where it needed to be. To go down there and do really well was great for us. There is a lot of talent in that area.”
As Foster hopes to ‘reload instead of rebuild,’ gone from the roster this year via graduation are All-State Second Teamer Ryan Hurst and his 17 points per game, along with Josh Loudin, Zach White, Will McCauley and Noam Keith.
Despite those losses, the talent cupboard is hardly bare for Foster who returns three players that saw significant varsity time last year.
The team will turn to junior guard/forward Lamar Hurst who averaged 11.2 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game last year. Hurst earned All-State Honorable Mention honors as a sophomore. Hurst had his classification re-adjusted as a student-athlete from being a senior to a junior during the off-season.
“Lamar has probably been the most vocal on the floor for us,” noted Foster. “I have been pretty proud of him. I think he is starting to get comfortable and things are getting easier for him. The problem is though, we at times are waiting for him to do something on the court instead of the guys making plays for themselves.”
Guard Harrison Walker is also back for his senior season after averaging 7.5 points per game and 3.3 assists per game last year as is senior guard Sterlin Thropp, who made eight starts averaging 2.3 points per game last season.
Junior Zach Calef-Boring is expected to take over a starting guard spot after playing in six varsity games last season while senior guard Oliver King returns and senior guard/forward, Mason Hyre, is back on the roster after sitting out last season.
Foster is hoping that international transfer student junior Taiwo Thropp will be able to make an immediate impact on the team, but he is nursing an injury and won’t be ready for at least two to three more weeks, according to Foster.
Also expected to see varsity minutes will be junior Shawn Blandino and sophomores Ian Strader and Jaden Westfall.
“Overall, we just don’t have a lot of varsity experience returning,” noted Foster.
Foster said that trying to develop a team chemistry with his new mix of players and returnees is one of his top priorities.
“We are still a work in progress at this point,” stated Foster. “I think we are still about 60 days from our full potential. We aren’t a team yet. We are still looking for that chemistry. We are throwing out so many different combinations at this point. We are trying to find the right five. If we throw out our top defensive unit, we struggle on offense. If I put our offensive players together, we struggle on defense. So we are still trying to find that happy medium and pushing guys into doing things they have never been made to do before.”
Foster said the team is likewise struggling to identify a leader on the court.
“Right now, instead of seeing leaders emerge from within the team, we are more worried about messing up instead of just going at it,” he said. “That is frustrating when you are looking for someone to lead, but we don’t have that right now. We have some guys that want to, and they will probably get there, but we aren’t at that point yet.”
Foster put his team through a pair of scrimmages last week, traveling to Tucker County and hosting Oak Hill.
“I thought we did well at Tucker County,” remarked Foster. “But we are throwing the ball away and have too many turnovers. We are unsure of one another at this point and we are putting guys in bad positions. That goes back to our inexperience. That said, the effort is there from the team. We have zero slackers on this team; everyone goes hard. We just need to put it all together. Usually, a team gets that worked out in the off-season but we have really been struggling with that.”
The Bucs are going to get tested early as they host Wheeling Park and Morgantown this week. Both teams are ranked in the Class AAAA AP preseason poll. Wheeling Park is ranked eighth while Morgantown is first. The Bucs are 14th in the preseason poll.
The B-U schedule also has Class AAAA powerhouses Parkersburg, University, Jefferson and South Charleston on it along with a talented bunch of teams from within the Big 10 Conference such as Robert C. Byrd, Bridgeport and Fairmont Senior.
“The schedule is on me,” joked Foster. “When we took over the program, it wasn’t filled with a lot of Class AAA teams which are now Class AAAA teams. So if you are trying to reach Charleston, you have to play these teams or you get a false representation of who you are. We can schedule a 20-win season, but where does that get you? We try to challenge our team and get them to compete. We are here to win a state championship, not pile up a bunch of regular season wins that mean nothing at the end of the day.”
Foster said a successful season to him this year is seeing improvement from the previous year.
“We always want to win one more game than the previous year,” concluded Foster. “We have always been able to do that since I have been here. If we do that, everything sort of works itself out.”
The Bucs open with Wheeling Park Tuesday and will then host Morgantown on Friday, Dec. 10.