NTL BOYS' BASKETBALL: NEB LOOKS TO COMPETE AS THEY RELOAD FOR 2021
(2021-01-10)BY CHRIS MANNINGNorthern Tier Sports Report
The Northeast Bradford boys’ basketball has been a paragon of consistency these past few seasons.
Before last year they made three straight District IV, Class AA title games while last year’s run came to an end in a first round overtime loss to Canton.
If they don’t win the NTL Division-II title they are at least in the hunt for it and last season was no exception.
Their program’s success could be tested this year, though, as they look to reload after losing a big senior class.
“We had really good seniors,” said forward Dan Williams. “So we just have to rebuild, the three of us. Me and Lucas (Crown) have been playing for a while. It’s going to be a tough year, abbreviated, but we’re just going to focus on just trying to get better everyday.”
Williams, along with fellow seniors Crown and Julian Jampo, have taken it upon themselves to carry on the Panther basketball legacy.
“I’ve played most of my career and I’m one of the seniors, so I’m going to be a leader this year,” said Jampo. “Basically, I want to just facilitate most of the time.”
After losing stalwart point guard Zak Smith to graduation two years ago they tried point guard by committee a year ago but saw mixed results, much like their season.
The high point was a home win over NPL that kept the Mountaineers from clinching the division, at least for one more game, while the low point was a home playoff loss to Canton where they led by 10 points with four minutes to go.
Much like winter weather, things often changed in a hurry.
One thing NEB coach Paul Burgert can count on, though, is the play of Crown.
The long, lanky lefty led the team in just about every major category at 13 points per game, 138 total rebounds, 98 assists and 35 steals. His herky-jerky style may not be the prettiest around but it’s efficient and effective.
“It’s huge for us,” Burgert said about getting Crown back. “Being that we lost so many seniors we do have him.”
Crown does a little of everything - playing 1-through-3 and possibly even the four if need be - and is happy to fill whatever role his team needs.
“It really does depending on the game,” he said about his position. “Whatever is best for the team I’ll just go there.”
Williams is another returner and he’ll be stepping into more of a starring role this year down on the block. He averaged 5.4 points per game a year ago and grabbed over 100 rebounds in a reserve role. He also dished out 21 assists - solid for a post players - and nabbed 11 steals.
“Williams has flown under the radar,” Burgert said. “But he’s another one that has played a lot of quality minutes for us the last two years. So, really, we’re thankful we have some veteran guys.”
Outside of center Dan Seeley the Panthers look to be one of the smaller teams in the area, a change from the past few seasons where they relied more on their size and length.
“We have to push the floor a lot, and get easy buckets,” Williams said. “Play scrappy defense. We don’t have a ton of size, we’ve just got to play hard, hustle and play all out the whole game.”
That’s going to be option number one on offense, getting out in transition.
“This year we want to run a fast break offense,” said Jampo. “We don’t even know how many games we’re going to have with Covid restrictions, so just got out and give it 100 percent.”
The tough defense, though, has been a mainstay since Burgert took over. Now they’re hoping that defense will lead to offense.
“We want to pressure the ball and get fast breaks,” Crown said. “We’ve just got to be quick, get easy points as much as possible.”
NEB also got an infusion of players after Christmas break with their roster up to 14 now. That includes NRCS standout Nick Beers, who at 6-foot, 4-inches, can play the 2-through-5 positions for the Panthers.
“When we were running to start, it is a little harder to breathe, but you get used to it,” said Jampo. “If you have to wear masks during the games it is what it is, at least we’re getting a season.”
Speaking of the season, this could shape up to be one of the most exciting in league history.
“I think the small school is as tough as it’s ever been since I’ve been here,” said Burgert. “I think it’s going to be exciting, it really could be an amazing year for large and small but this is the year for small school.”
Defending league champion NP-Liberty returns much of their team as does playoff surprises Canton and Sayre. Wyalusing, last year’s surprise team in the NTL, drops down to Division-II while Cowanesque Valley has some good athletes.
That means each night will be a battle for the Panthers, but they’re undeterred.
“I think we can compete,” said Crown. “We compete every year, we just have to work as a team, just develop, get better and stronger every day.”
And that’s their focus for this year, only worry about they can control.
“We can only control what we can control,” said Williams. “Take it day by day and worry about us.”
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