Coming off the best boys basketball season in school history, Bedford is right back at it this season.
The Mules, who set a program record for wins with their 18-6 finish last season en route to Michigan’s Class A regional semifinals, are off to a 5-0 start, led by senior standout Jackson Lamb.
“I think that the mindset is different,” Bedford coach Nick Lowe said. “They’re at the point now where they expect to win rather than hope to win. That’s a big part of the battle.”
As the Mules prepare for their biggest test so far this season Saturday at Whitmer, Lowe seems to have helped change the culture of the program while the 6-foot-6 Lamb has taken his already superb game up a notch.
When Lamb joined the varsity as a freshman, the Mules finished 9-11 and dropped to 6-15 the following year after a coaching change.
But, with Lamb earning all-state first-team honors last season while averaging 21.8 points and 10 rebounds, Bedford got to the brink of winning its first league title in history.
The Mules finished second in the Southeastern Conference’s Red Division.
This season the Mules have beaten Southview (71-50), Brownstone Woodhaven (71-43), Adrian (74-55) in SEC play, and Lakota (70-36) and Bowsher (76-65) at the Emmanuel Christian Warrior Classic.
Lamb has attached special significance to his senior season, because in all probability it will be his last on the hardcourt. A talented center fielder/pitcher, he will play baseball on scholarship at the University of Michigan.
“It kind of really hit me at the beginning of the season,” Lamb said of having to give up basketball. “This was my last opener. It’s really different for me. I’m probably not going to do this anymore, so that does add a little motivation to it for me.”
Added Lowe: “I don’t know if I sense any more motivation in Jackson because he has always been a very motivated individual on the floor. I sense more focus. I think he’s taking it a little more serious on the floor. He knows this is the end for him, and he wants to make the most of it.”
Through five games Lamb is averaging 27.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, 4.6 blocked shots, and 3.0 assists, while shooting 71 percent from two-point range and 56 percent on 3-pointers.
“I thought coming into this season that it would be hard for Jackson to outdo the numbers he had last year because they were so good,” Lowe said. “But he worked on his game in the offseason, and he is a much better player now than he was last year.
“He’s really added to his game. He’s a very good perimeter jump-shooter now. He’s getting his teammates involved, he helps out against pressure with his ball-handling, so he’s much more of a complete player this year.”
Lamb, has scored 20 or more points in all five games, including efforts of 34, 31, and 30. He entered the season already holding school career records for scoring (1,328 points) and rebounding (650).
“It’s disappointing to me for a selfish aspect,” Lowe said of Lamb giving up basketball. “I would love to see what he could turn into a couple years from now.
“I thought at the end of last year that Jackson was probably a mid-major level college basketball player. After watching what he has done with his game in the offseason, and playing against some major college recruits, I think Jackson is a major college basketball player. He could have played at the highest level.”
Lamb has been well-complemented in the front-court by versatile 6-4, 225-pound junior Jeremy Harris, who is averaging 10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.4 assists.
“Jeremy Harris is great combination player for us,” Lowe said. “He’s got the size and the strength to play inside and rebound, and he’s also very good facing the basket and shooting the basketball.”
With that 1-2 front-line punch in order, Bedford’s Red Division title hopes may come down to how well the right knee of senior guard Dennis Guss holds up.
Guss, who sustained torn ACL and MCL ligaments along with a femur fracture last May while playing AAU basketball, has returned after surgery, and he plays with a brace.
“We just picked up where we left off last year,” Guss said of the 5-0 start. “We had that tough regional game. We have the mindset that we ended with last year. We want to go as far as we can, and win the league championship for sure. We fell short last year.”
The 5-11 senior wing recently tweaked the repaired knee, but returned after missing two games. He is averaging 9.6 points despite playing just 39 total minutes in his three games.
“Dennis Guss is very instrumental to what we could do this year,” Lowe said. “He brings a mental and physical toughness to our team, on top of his basketball ability — being able to handle the ball, shoot the ball.
“In all the years that I’ve coached, Dennis may have the quickest hands defensively of any player I’ve coached. He just has knack for getting steals and deflections, and just causing havoc defensively.”
Inheriting the point guard position from the graduated Kenny McFadden is 6-1 junior Brad Boss, who was an All-SEC and All-Monroe County quarterback on the Bedford football team in the fall.
“We’ve got some talent at the school right now and we’ve got good coaching,” Boss said of the basketball program rising at a school where wrestling was and is the marquee sport. “The coaches have turned this into an elite program.
Boss tries to bring his quarterback responsibilities to the basketball court.
“I just try to be a leader and get us in our sets, and keep us from taking bad shots,” he said. “Winning the league is a big motivation for us. We want to be remembered as the first to win a league title here.”
Boss is averaging 6.8 points and 5.0 assists per game.
Rounding out the starting lineup have been 5-10 senior guard Jake Wise (5.0 points) and 6-3 junior wing Collin Welch (4.5 points, 4.2 rebounds).
“The more that we consistently put a good product on the floor, the more it’ll catch on,” Lowe said. “I think people in the Bedford community have taken notice of the basketball team, and I think they’re happy with the results these boys are having, and how they’re doing it.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.