Bluffton went 15-8 last season and reached the sectional semifinals, losing 72-55 to Bishop Luers, but the Tigers lost a lot to graduation – Chandler Prible, Jackson Lambert, Matthew Sturgeon and Seth Thompson.
That puts the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Michael Pearson, a two-year starter who averaged 9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last season.
I see myself as taking that pressure well, Pearson, 18, said. Those are the moments I strive for, the big moments, so I can get us the win or whatever I can do to help out.
Since last season, Pearson has worked hard on becoming more of a distributor of the ball.
Ive worked on being more of a ball handler and rebounder and I want to create for myself as well as the other people on the team, said Pearson, who will play small or power forward.
Our coach (Kevin Leising) really pressed the uptempo game this summer, getting the ball down the court and scoring quickly and getting back on defense. (I may play) the 3 or 4, but our coach is really flexible and on the break I could lead it up. All our starters can dribble the ball decently.
Leising, who has only one returning starter in Pearson, is excited to see how he handles the new responsibility of being the go-to guy.
Now hes got to be a guy whos not a follower. Hes always been kind of a leader, but now hes got to be a guy who makes the right decisions and leads us in the right direction, Leising said. Weve had a lot of times in the past where Ive felt like (Ive seen glimpses). Going back to his freshman year, Keith Cochran fouls out against Luers and were up 20-something in the third quarter. Mike comes in. If not, we get beat. He gets three rebounds above Jaylon Smith, who I think Ive seen play a few times this year on TV (as a linebacker with Notre Dame).
So that shows Mike is very capable. But we need how to see how he handles it. But Ive always said hes a gamer.
Pearson will share in the leadership department with fellow seniors Austin Brigner and Grant Prible.
I think weve got the potential to do really well this year if we get good leadership out of our three seniors and the other guys step up like they always do at Bluffton, Pearson said. But its always tough losing as many seniors as we did (from last season), especially with all that experience and the great leaders that they were. But I think well step up.
Pearson is putting a premium on worrying about the Tigers season above all else.
Its my time and it adds a bunch of pressure, he said. A bunch of people think we wont do as well because we lost all those guys, and I want to prove those people wrong.