VANDALIA — As Butler head basketball coach DJ Wyrick enters his third season, there’s a different feel around the Aviator basketball program. Its not just the winning, although going from 4-19 in year one to 13-11 a season ago and pushing a good Northmont team to the final seconds in the sectional semifinals doesn’t hurt.
Wyrick and his coaching staff have injected an enthusiasm, focus, and intensity that reflects the head coach’s personality.
“We are five days a week from the time we are allowed to work with them until the last day we aren’t and the kids have completely bought in,” said Wyrick. “The first summer I was here it was everything I could do to find seven guys to go play in a summer league. Now our attendance rate in the off-season is over 90% and they are excited to be working and asking us for more.
“We have dudes who really get along and like each other – there’s no ‘me’ guys in the locker room. We have committed coaches who live and die by this stuff, these kids who can’t get enough of it, and the parents are buying in, too. In high school sports you have to have all three of those and I’m most excited because of that.”
In 2017, the Aviators surged at the end of the season by winning 8 of their last 11 games and earning their first post-season win in over a decade. In the sectional semi-final, they led nearly the entire game to a Northmont team that won 20 games and advanced to District.
Wyrick said that success has raised confidence in the kids who hadn’t been used to winning.
“After last season the kids see the results of their hard work and are ready to get back at it,” he said. “I’ve probably watched that (Northmont) game 30 times where so many small things led to the last possession costing us the game. We were that close to making a sectional final and now the kids know they can do that.”
The growth didn’t come without growing pains, however. Wyrick said what bothered him most about last season was an early losing streak where five losses came by an average of four points.
“We had to learn how to close games out and I think a lot of that comes with being there before,” he said. “Going from 4-19 to 13-11 is great, but now we can take that next step and win some of those close games. We have more confidence.”
The Aviators lose two of their top three scorers which accounted for nearly half their points a year ago, but will look to replace that by committee. Back is Michael Kreill who averaged 7.5 points and 3.4 assists per game and Bryant Johnson who averaged 5.5 points and 3 rebounds.
Trey Sanders, Sutton Skapik, Braedon Norman, and Ryan Wertz all return from a season ago and newcomer Kort Justice will be expected to see significant playing time.
“If you asked me right now who I’m going to in the last minute to get a basket I’m probably going to say whoever is hot that night,” said Wyrick. “We don’t have a go-to guy in the post but we have several good shooters, several guys who can drive the ball, we have a really good mix.
“Being in my third year we can get a little more creative because there’s not as much teaching my system – most of the kids have been in my system for three years. They understand my style of coaching, what I want done, how we play and how we value possessions and that’s one of our biggest strengths.”
One of the areas Butler will look to improve is challenging for the GWOC North title. Sidney (18-6, 13-2) won the league a year ago and enters the season as the favorite to repeat, but the Aviators should present a strong challenge to the Yellow Jackets.
“Our (Sidney) head to head meetings won’t decide the league,” said Wyrick. “It’s taking care of business on the road on a Tuesday night that will decide the league. That’s our challenge.”
Butler will host Shawnee on Friday in their season opener before traveling to Beavercreek on Saturday night. Wyrick said his message to his team is the same before every game.
“We know the plan – its in place and we have been working on it for a week,” he said. “Empty your tank and have fun. Go out and play your hardest – don’t have any regrets.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.