HAWLEY — On the eve of the 2012-'13 Lackawanna League boys basketball season, one thing is clear: Wallenpaupack Area should be right in the thick of the hunt for a Division II title.
The Buckhorns were set to tip off their regular season slate Friday night at North Pocono, hard on the heels of a solid runner-up finish at the Honesdale Area Jaycees Holiday Classic.
This will represent just the first step on a long road to what Head Coach Rich McGinnis hopes is a memorable campaign.
"I've been stressing three things to the kids over and over at practice: Toughness, poise and focus," Coach McGinnis said.
"And, I'm seeing those things from the kids most of the time. What we have to work on now is making sure we play that way for four full quarters … not just three or three and a half."
With this type of dogged commitment, then, it should come as no surprise that the Bucks are off to a solid start this winter.
As The News Eagle went to press on Friday, Paupack sported a 6-3 overall record.
Paupack will take that mark into the Lackawanna League wars, which feature two games each Division II and single crossover battles with Division I.
Last weekend at the 53rd Annual Jaycees Tourney, the Bucks did indeed exhibit toughness, poise and focus in both of their encounters.
Paupack dominated its semifinal contest with East Stroudsburg South, then took undefeated Honesdale right down to the wire before finally falling in the championship game.
Page 2 of 3 - This early-season showdown took place in a gym that was packed to the rafters with local high school hoops fans. It may well be just a hint of what's to come in a division filled with the likes of Western Wayne, Delaware Valley, North Pocono, Honesdale and Paupack.
The local lads struggled to a 2-12 mark in Division I last year. However, Paupack was competing against perennial powerhouses like Scranton High, Abington Heights and Prep.
This time around, Jake Brown and his teammates will square off in a more balanced setting.
"I'm kind of a nostalgic guy when it comes to local high school sports," Coach McGinnis said.
"One of the best things about this alignment is that the old Wayne County rivalries will have new life injected into them. I think that's what the fans want. I know it's what I want."
Brown is among the best players in the entire region, much less the Lackawanna League. A silky-smooth senior guard, Jake is already averaging more than 26 points per game.
He was especially deadly during the Honesdale Area Jaycees Tournament.
Brown exploded for 31 points in Friday's semifinal versus ESS, then added 22 more Sunday night against Honesdale in the title tilt.
"I don't think it's much of a secret that Jake Brown is an incredible player," Coach McGinnis said.
"One of the best things about Jake, though, is what a super kid he is. Jake is an outstanding leader on and off the court. He's a great representative of our school and the community."
Brown put on a show for the big Honesdale crowd, especially in the title tilt.
Paupack built a 7-point halftime lead, but then the Hornets rallied and pulled even at 50-50 as the fourth quarter dawned.
Page 3 of 3 - From there, Brown and tournament MVP Kevin Miller traded electrifying baskets before Honesdale finally took control for good in the final minutes.
"Jake Brown is a special player," Hornets Coach Tim Wood said. "You're never going to stop him for an entire game. The best you can hope to do is play him tough and make him earn everything gets."
Onward & Upward
While Jake Brown is indisputably Paupack's on-court leader, several other players have stepped up to play key roles.
"We spent just about all of last year looking for someone to complement Jake on offense," Coach McGinnis said. "Now, it looks like we're finally getting that on most nights.
Eric Miller is at the top of that list. The senior 2-guard has evolved into one of the area's deadliest assassins from beyond the arc.
Miller rattled the rims for 15 points against ESS and added 17 more versus the Red & Black. All tolled, he dialed up 10 long-distance treys and
"Other teams want to key in on Jake, but they'd better think twice about it because Eric can step out and knock down big shots," said Coach McGinnis.
"He's showing a lot of consistency here early in the season."
John Steffen and Nico Tereschak combined to give Paupack a powerful interior presence to help balance its perimeter attack.
A 6'3" sophomore power forward, Steffen muscled his way to nine points in each Jaycees game. He also collected 14 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Tereschak is a 6'4" senior who anchors the low post from his center spot. Nico scored only two points in Friday night's win, but hit for 10 on Sunday.
Anthony Bouselli, Tyle Brexel and Jamel Blanding also contributed big plays and will see key minutes for the Bucks this season.