The news immediately brought a smile to Brownstown sophomore Michael Kramer’s face.
It wasn’t necessarily word that BHS coach Adam Bussard had been named The Leader-Union’s 2007-08 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, coming off a season in which he led the Bombers to a surprisingly successful 16-10 record.
It was confirmation that Bussard is committed to bringing the program something else it’s been sorely lacking in recent seasons – stability – that made Kramer’s day.
‘I plan on being here,’ said Bussard when asked if he’d be breaking the program’s coaching-carousel trend. ‘There’s no reason for me to leave.’
Bussard’s dedication to a program that has had five coaches in as many seasons is just one reason those words were music to Kramer’s ears.
‘He’s one of the best coaches we’ve ever had,’ said Kramer. ‘He disciplined us to make us better, and we didn’t get that very much (before).’
Kramer admits ‘discipline’ was not the first word that came to mind when he and his teammates first met the boyish-looking Bussard a year ago.
‘He did look pretty young,’ said Kramer of the first-year head coach. ‘I was thinking he’d let us get by with some stuff.’
Bussard had his reasons to be skeptical as well.
‘I had heard a lot of (negative) things,’ Bussard said. ‘But I really just tried to block that out and give them an opportunity to sell me personally. I thought maybe it’d be different for me.’
That open-minded approach paid immediate dividends, as Bussard was able to connect with his players from the get-go.
As a result, the Bombers were able to hit the ground running during the summer.
‘To be honest with you, after just after three or four weeks, I had great expectations for us,’ Bussard said.
A shootout at Edwardsville saw the Bombers hang tough with bigger, more-established programs such as Wesclin and Metro East Lutheran, keeping Bussard optimistic heading into the fall.
‘That’s summer ball, and it doesn’t really mean anything,’ Bussard said, ‘but for us to compete with those types of programs right off the bat, I had a good feeling.’
Bussard’s good feeling continued early in the season, as the Bombers kicked off the campaign by winning Mulberry Grove Thanksgiving Tournament title.
Still, they didn’t really start opening eyes until pushing the top-seeded host team to the brink in the semifinals of the St. Elmo Holiday Tournament. The fifth-seeded Bombers then upset perennial power South Central to claim third place.
BHS’s first victory over the Cougars since 1993 surprised just about everyone but the Bombers themselves.
‘When we beat them, it really wasn’t a surprise, because (Bussard) convinced us we could do that,’ Kramer said.
It wasn’t necessarily that his team beat South Central that impressed Bussard – it was how the Bombers went about pulling off the upset.
‘It came back to, ‘Well, Brownstown doesn’t win those type of games,’ said Bussard of a contentious, nip-and-tuck affair. ‘I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that. But these guys never quit.’
The Bombers showed the same resilience in another overtime defeat to St. Elmo in February, a game Bussard will remember, despite the outcome.
‘Even though we didn’t win, they are a pretty darn good ballclub,’ Bussard said. ‘They beat T-Town two times in four days, and we took them to overtime and double-overtime. I was proud of that.’
Brownstown went on to just its second winning season in the past 15 years, despite having to replace its top two scorers from a team that went just 9-16 the year prior.
‘I was happy,’ Bussard said. ‘I felt our kids competed every single time we stepped out on the floor. We talked about that being one of our goals – having the will to win. I thought almost every game we did that.’
Bussard’s quick success did not surprise his former high school coach, Olney-East Richland head man Rob Flanagan, one iota.
‘He has a really bright future as a basketball coach,’ Flanagan said. ‘I’m happy for Brownstown. They got rewarded for hiring him. They called me about them and I a said lot of the (good) things I’m telling you.’
Bussard, in turn, is quick to credit Flanagan, one of his two main coaching influences, along with his father, Larry.
Bussard’s dad, a big Bob Knight fan, coached at Olney for several years.
‘He comes from pretty good basketball family here in Olney,’ Flanagan said. ‘He’s very knowledgeable about the game.’
Ironically, Flanagan and Bussard have bonded due in large part to their mutual affinity for Duke basketball and coach Mike Krzyzewski – widely considered the anti-Knight.
But Bussard’s influences influences may have helped produce a coaching hybrid that mixes Knight and Kryzewski’s polar-opposite – yet effective – styles.
Kramer seems to agree.
‘He’s one of my better friends at school, because he’s still around my age and understands what I’m going through,’ Kramer said. ‘But he’s dedicated and pushes us, too.’
Bussard is quick to deflect credit for the Bombers’ surprising season.
‘The credit should go to the boys,’ Bussard said. ‘You can preach, preach, preach, but it takes a group that’ll listen and put it into action. And they did, so I’m proud of that.
‘I don’t know if it was the way I treated them with respect, or demanded respect, but they gave it all to me 98 percent. And that 2 percent, we corrected it, and I felt at the end of the year, it was 100 percent.’
Though Bussard is committed for at least one more season at BHS, his coaching stock is no doubt on the rise. His long-term whereabouts will hinge largely on where his fianc lands a job after she graduates from SIU-Edwardsville this spring.
Kramer just hopes its somewhere within driving distance of Brownstown.
‘I want him to be around as long as I’m here,’ said Kramer. ‘If he leaves after that, it’s not my loss.’
The good news for Kramer and company: Despite a solid season, Bussard sounds more like a guy building a foundation than one set to jump off a stepping-stone.
‘We have some things to improve on,’ Bussard said. ‘We have a lot of room to get better. Especially mentally.
‘We want to be the prototype basketball program. We want to go to other towns and gyms and have other coaches say, ‘I want you guys to play as hard as Brownstown does.”