LIBERTY TWP. — The season goals are getting checked off by Lakota East High School’s boys basketball team.
The Thunderhawks wanted to win the Greater Miami Conference championship. Check.
They wanted to get back to the Division I district finals, where they suffered an agonizing 53-51 loss to Princeton last season. Check.
They wanted to win a district title and advance to the regional for the first time since 2016. Pending.
BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
“Our practices have been good, we’ve been sharp and focused, so I really love where we’re at right now,” said East coach Clint Adkins, who will take his team to the University of Dayton Arena on Saturday night to face Fairmont for a district crown.
“At the end of the season, I thought we were maybe a little bit worn down mentally and physically. We took three days off after the tournament draw, and I thought that did wonders for our guys in terms of recharging their battery. They’re real excited about this opportunity.”
East is 19-5, having won nine of its last 10 games. Fairmont is 17-8 and the fourth-place finisher in the Greater Western Ohio Conference National East Division.
The Thunderhawks are led by senior forward Bash Wieland, who tops the GMC with a 19.5 scoring average and seems headed for the conference Player of the Year award. He’s shooting 59.5 percent from the floor, 43.9 percent from 3-point range and 79.8 percent from the foul line.
But East is not a one-man show. The Thunderhawks are good when Wieland scores. They can be great when his supporting cast is scoring as well.
Junior wing Kaden Fuhrmann is one of those guys. A junior varsity player last season, he’s averaging 7.8 points per game, shoots the ball well in all areas and has shown a penchant for making big 3-pointers.
“He’s a guy if you don’t pay attention to him, he’s liable to put 15 or 20 on you,” Adkins said. “He’s able to shoot the 3 well, and he’s gotten better at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim on guys. A lot of times, he’s the No. 3 or No. 4 on the scouting report. But he’s a heckuva guy to have as your third- or fourth-best option on offense. When he plays with confidence, he’s a really good player.”
Fuhrmann said he had modest goals coming into this season.
“I worked on my defense mainly in the offseason so I could go in and guard whoever I needed to guard,” Fuhrmann said. “I worked on catch-and-shoot 3s. I didn’t expect to score as much as I’ve been scoring, but I’ll do anything to help the team win.”
He describes himself as a defense-first guy, especially on this team.
“We’ve got so many offensive threats,” Fuhrmann said. “I think our whole team needs to be defense-first because we can all score on offense.”
Adkins said Fuhrmann ended last season as East’s best JV player, though he struggled early in the year with the physicality of the game. That’s an area of emphasis as Fuhrmann moves forward and opponents have an even bigger stake in defending him.
He admitted he learned a few things about team basketball last year when the reserves got off to a terrible start.
“We all thought we were going to be undefeated, and obviously we were humbled,” Fuhrmann said. “We ended up being like 1-6, but we started coming together and turning everything around. I think we ended up with seven losses. It just shows when you play team basketball, you play way better than the selfish isolation ball.”
Wieland, headed for NCAA Division II power Bellarmine University, is his role model. The 6-foot-3, 167-pound Fuhrmann said he wants to be like Bash, and part of that emulation process will be adding muscle and weight in the offseason.
“Gaining weight has always been a struggle,” Fuhrmann said. “But I have to do it if I want to be like Bash.”
Fuhrmann broke his shooting (right) wrist last summer during a camp at Denison University. He had surgery and was back at full strength by early fall, even though he still feels a little discomfort from time to time.
“We were winning big, we had a fast break, and I got a little too happy and went in for a lob,” Fuhrmann said of the play that caused the injury. “I tried to catch the lob, hit the rim, flipped off and landed right on my arm.”
Adkins said jumping isn’t a problem for Fuhrmann, noting that while his body doesn’t wow people, he’s “surprisingly athletic.”
“If you watched him jump, you would be amazed,” Adkins said. “Sometimes people don’t get to see that, but he can dunk it about any way you want it.”
The East-Fairmont matchup features two teams with similar styles and athletes. Adkins said the biggest difference is the Firebirds’ pace. The Thunderhawks prefer a more deliberate approach.
Fairmont has scored 60 or more points 12 times this year, going 11-1 in those games.
“When they’re able to play in transition and play really, really fast, I think that’s when they’re at their best,” Adkins said.
Firebirds coach Blair Albright said his team essentially uses four guards and a center.
Seniors Ryan Hall and Kellan Bochenek are 6-4 guards and lead the team in scoring. Hall is scoring 17.3 points per game, while Bochenek is averaging 15.8.
Fairmont has not won a district championship since 1995.
“I expect it to be a really challenging game for us,” Albright said. “Lakota East is not the type of team that you can hope is going to go out there and not play well. They play a style where you can’t make many mistakes and have any chance to win.
“There’s certainly some similarities in the two teams in terms of our length and sort of having a set group of guys that we go to. We do like to play a faster pace, and I think that’s going to be an important key. I don’t think you’re going to be able to do it a lot against them successfully. I expect them to be a hard team to score on in the halfcourt.”
It’s been a difficult week at Fairmont with the death of a student who was a former basketball player. The funeral was held Friday.
“Our guys are doing their best to compartmentalize,” Albright said. “When it’s time for basketball and it’s time to really lock in, they’ve done a really nice job of that. That’s a huge challenge for adults, let alone adolescents. You’re talking about processing that level of emotional grief vs. trying to maintain the level of focus that it takes to win basketball games against teams of the caliber that we’re playing. Those two things don’t normally go together.
“There’s still some hurdles for the team. As tragic as the situation has been, we’ve seen some things in the way that our guys have reacted to it that we’re incredibly proud of.”
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