BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – It is an irony not lost on either history or the Northern Lebanon boys’ basketball coach.
In his day, Gary Bouchette was one of the top post players and inside forces locally. Now Bouchette is the coach of one of the most guard-oriented outfits Lebanon County basketball has ever seen.
While it may have taken some getting used to at first, Bouchette has embraced the concept as simply a sign of the times.
“I’m a post guy unfortunately,” said Bouchette. “We don’t have a lot of size, so we just have to spread some teams out. You’ve got to play us outside, or you’re going to have a ‘drive and kick.’
“It was a different game when I played,” Bouchette continued. “It’s more guard-oriented now. When I played you had to have inside and outside to be successful.”
Northern Lebanon has turned its perceived weakness into a strength. No one in the Vikings’ starting lineup will be too much over 6-0.
But the Vikings, as a unit, are tough to guard on the perimeter, as a general rule, they do a pretty good job of taking care of the ball and they love to run.
“It’s a fun group,” said Bouchette. “It really is. They battle against each other. And it doesn’t matter when or where.
“There’s times that I’m in the weight room or I’m leaving school,” continued Bouchette, “and they’re (his players) sneaking in to the gym. And I’m not even there.”
Northern Lebanon features one of the top guard tandems in the Lancaster-Lebanon League in seniors Sammy Light, a prolific scorer, and Richard Iwuagwu, a fierce competitor and all-out hustler.
Light is a fearless leader, deadly free throw shooter and will do whatever it takes for his team to win. Iwuagwu is a shut down defender, who normally draws the other team’s top scorer.
“You have to look at your group,” said Bouchette. “You can’t think you’re going to run the same things every year. The most difficult thing for this group will be playing a completely different style. We never pressed teams before, and we want to run. We have a different group of kids who can do some different things.
“Our size, our height is our weakness,” Bouchette added. “We’re going to continue to box out, because if we don’t we’re going to get beaten on the boards.”
Junior Isaac Ray, a 5-11 guard, is an athletic combo guard out of the mold of Light and Iwuagwu. If the Vikings do have players who will play inside, they go by the names of Damon ‘Sunshine’ Long, a 6-0 forward/guard, and Christian Morales, a 5-10 senior forward.
The first player off the Viking pines will be Joe Atoigue, a 5-7 junior guard.
“We haven’t talked about goals yet,” said Bouchette. “One of the big things is to get back to districts. And I’m sure the section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) is one of their goals. I can’t really tell you how many wins we’re shooting for. That’ll take care of itself. The section’s going to be very competitive again. If you don’t play hard, you’re going to lose.
“They have to buy into what we’re trying to accomplish,” added Bouchette. “You’ve got to have five guys who want to do the little things. It’s loose balls, the rebounds, boxing out. We have to do them night after night.”
Last season, Northern Lebanon enjoyed a break-through campaign, qualifying for the District Three Class AAA postseason for the first time in ten years. The Vikings finished the season with a 15-8 overall mark.
“I thought it was a successful season,” said Bouchette. “Even the games that went down to the wire and we lost. The thing I remember was the way we started to play together as a team. It was the first time I saw the team effort. In previous years it was five guys out on the court working individually. I’d like to take some credit, but it’s the group of kids we have.
“They got a taste of it last year,” concluded Bouchette. “Last year was a taste, and I think they want more. They know what they’re capable of. Other teams know we have some guards, and they know about Sam, but that’s all they know.”
Northern Lebanon will open the its 2013-14 year on Friday, December 6th in the opening round of the Annville-Cleona tip-off tournament.