By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Kyle Gawlowski has a few things going for him entering this season.
For starters, he has now been at Buffalo for four years, thus every player in his program knows nothing but his program. Everyone is acclimated to the system and expectations. But, along with that, the Bison return three starters from last year’s group that won 15 games in 2018-19.
To understand just how impressive that is, the program had won a combined 14 games in the three previous seasons. Buffalo hadn’t had double-digit wins since 2011.
Last year the Bison won nine of their last 11 games entering district play, helping to instantly turnaround their season before a district loss to Strafford.
“We had a lot of close games in the first half of the season and were dealing with nagging injuries for the middle part of the season,” said Gawlowski. “Once we got healthy, we went on a run and were able to win the Stockton Tournament Championship. That tournament win was a big boost for our team and was the catalyst for a lot of the success we had to finish the season.”
Now, Buffalo returns three starters from that team and several intriguing newcomers that will look to continue to advance the program forward.
It all starts with junior Jamen Smith.
He’s a three-sport standout that led Buffalo in scoring (14.6 PPG), assists (4.8 APG) and steals (2.4 SPG) as a sophomore. That includes five 20-point games and a pair of double-doubles from his guard spot.
“Jamen is an exceptional athlete which is immediately obvious to anyone who watches him play, but it is his intelligence and instincts that set him apart,” said Gawlowski. “He consistently makes the correct decision and makes the decision quickly. Jamen’s shot selection, passing choices, and positioning on defense were above and beyond what I would expect from any sophomore. As he has gotten even stronger and gained more experience over the summer, we expect Jamen to make the same leap in performance he made between his freshman and sophomore years.”
Buffalo will also see expanded contributions from Coltin Henderson and Bode Abraham. Both were starters last season, playing significant roles in Buffalo’s success.
Henderson, a senior, averaged 9.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG and 2.9 APG. Abraham, a junior, added 8.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 2.7 APG. Both will be pivotal two-way players for the Bison.
“Henderson returns for his senior season in which he will be a fourth year varsity player for us. He has done a great job of expanding his game each season. At this point, he can play any position for us and does a great job of adjusting to whatever the defense is giving him. He will be essential for us as a true inside/outside threat capable of using his strength and size or stepping out and hitting shots behind the arc.
“Bode will be a second year varsity starter as a junior. He was our best perimeter defender last season, and over the summer, Bode showed he is ready to make a big step on the offensive end as well. He has an incredible motor and will really make a lot of teams pay if they try to focus in on Jamen too much. Bode is going to be on the radar of a lot of people in the area after this season.”
Gawlowski is also excited about guys that will be seeing larger varsity roles this winter.
Senior Cody Smith is one of Buffalo’s top football players. At 6-foot-3, 285lbs, he’ll have a chance to be a factor in the paint on both ends of the floor. Junior Dominic Miller saw action in 16 varsity games last year when Buffalo was bitten by the injury bug. He is looking at a role as a 3 and D guy for the Bison. Sophomore Cameron Portis will make an impact with his high energy and athleticism.
How quickly that trio adjusts to major minutes could dictate just how successful Buffalo is this winter.
“When moving up at any level, the biggest difference is the speed, physicality, and amount of communicating they have to play with,” said Gawlowski. “As players get used to these, then they can settle down and focus on what they need to do to help our team win. Our younger guys, including some freshmen, played against a lot of varsity teams this summer. At times, they took some lumps, but that has helped speed up how quickly they will adjust to the varsity level.”
The rest of the Ozark Mountain Conference will have no sympathy for Buffalo’s graduation losses.
The Bison won the league last year with a 7-1 record and, with the only first-team All-OHC selection returning in the league, along with fellow All-OHC pick Coltin Henderson back, Buffalo has the firepower to again win the conference championship.
Gawlowski is hopeful this group can continue to take steps forward and compete for conference and district championships.
“We played incredibly hard and unselfishly through most of our games last season,” said Gawlowski. “This year we need to add efficiency to that. If we as a team are able to improve our shot selection, then we will go a long way towards repeating as conference champs and winning a district championship.”
Buffalo will open the 2019-20 season on Dec. 2 at the Marionville Tournament.