FORT WAYNE – If you are expecting A.J. Busche to brag about his statistics or make some conceited proclamations about this season, you’ve got the wrong guy.
The interesting thing, though, is that he’d be entitled to do so.
He put up terrific numbers last season – 18.2 points, 8.3 rebounds per game – and he did so for a Leo team that went 6-1 in the ACAC, 11-11 overall and is expected to be one of the best teams in northeast Indiana this season.
But Busche, a senior, is just not one to be boastful.
It’s going to be a good one; I like the team that we have, he said. We’re going to fit well as long as we have good practices and we work hard. I really have no worries. We’re kind of like a family. We are actually a lot closer than last season.
The Lions bring back a lot of talent – seniors Sam Waters, Trey Phillips, Kyle Pepple, Fazaun Stephens and Zach Moreau, juniors Bryce Beer, Chandler Fields and Jake Robbins, plus sophomore David Hardin – but it’s what they lost that has coach Cary Cogdell making sure everyone tempers their enthusiasm.
We have a lot of guys back from a year ago, but we lost two of the best leaders we’ve ever had in Gage Corner and Taylor Horn, and that intangible is very hard to replace, Cogdell said. That’s going to be our biggest challenge, to see if we can do it. We need guys who are willing to lead by example, in a positive and contstructive way.
Busche set the team’s single-game scoring record with 47 points against Whitko last season, so it’s unlikely he’s going to sneak up on anyone this season. He’s ready for the challenge of being the focus of opposing defenses, though.
I probably won’t surprise anybody, but it all depends on how hard you work, Busche said.
Waters and Hardin, who combined for 25 points per game last season, will certainly take the scoring pressure of Busche but the pressure will be on him to lead.
What I would like to see from A.J. is more consistency, Cogdell said. Obviously he’s capable of putting up some really, really big games, but this year, we’d like to see him be a little more consistent every game.
In the offseason, Busche took steps to make that happen.
I hit the weight room pretty hard this summer, trying to make myself more athletic, he said. And I worked on my ball handling a lot more; that was something with which I think I struggled the most.
The Lions will get plenty of challenges this season, especially in the ACAC from defending champion Adams Central.
How the Lions fare may depend on their leadership qualities as much as their physical talents, and Busche wants to make sure his team is even better than last season.
To do that, he said, it will take more than him just being a do-everything star.
We’ve just got to step up as a team, he said. We had great leaders in Gage and Taylor, and we can never really replace that, but if there’s anything we learned from last season it’s that we can’t rely on only two or three people. I’m going to rely on some of the younger guys more than they will rely on me. It will be more of a team effort this year.