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January 11, 2014

AMEY TAKES AIM: Basketball clock ticking down for Union

TERRE HAUTE — If there’s an unfortunate unintended consequence of the several weather-related postponements to the Greene County Invitational — which is operating as well as it possibly could have, Steve Brett was adamant about going on record to say Saturday evening — it’s that losers of Saturday’s four first-round games won’t get to play their usual two additional games in the consolation bracket.

That didn’t bother the coach and athletic director from Shakamak, although Brett’s Lakers found themselves in that predicament after a loss to Clay City, but it was just another setback — albeit a minor one — in the sad high school basketball season for the first-round loser of Saturday’s previous game.

“We need all the games we can get,” coach Joe Pigg of Union said after the Bulldogs’ loss to Bloomfield.

Pigg was speaking entirely from a basketball standpoint. He’s frustrated by his team’s lack of progress, even though his roster consists of returnees from a winless season a year ago, plus a significant amount of freshmen.

The Dugger community, however — which backed their Bulldogs in force despite the team’s having lost 32 of its previous 33 games — has another reason to miss those two games that could have been. There aren’t many left at all.

The recent announcement that Union High School and Dugger Elementary School are closing at the end of the school year has been maddening or heartbreaking or both, and every remaining school event — finding gold and black apparel in the southwest corner of the White River Valley gym on Saturday wasn’t difficult at all — is to be savored and/or agonized about.

Various Union players also spoke almost entirely in basketball terms Saturday after their 61-42 loss to Bloomfield, although sophomore guard Trey Bedwell did admit, “We’ve still got to work through [the fact that the school is closing] … it kind of brings everybody down.”

Pigg, a Union graduate and a typical Bulldog player in his day — hard-nosed, aggressive, backing down to no one during his tenure under coach Joe Hart — had already coached a girls basketball state-finals team from White River Valley, and he returned to his alma mater this year to try and right its boys basketball ship after an 0-22 campaign.

He wasn’t planning for it to be a one-year job, and still isn’t treating it as such. “We’ll get there,” he said of his young team. “I’ve got to do a better job of coaching.”

“We just want to win. That’s all we’re here for,” said senior Ian Hamburg, a four-year varsity player.

Being a senior on Union’s last team means little to him — he transferred from Sullivan schools to attend Union — but he is appreciative of that fan support.

“They’ve always been supportive,” Hamburg noted, “no matter what you’re doing.”

“I don’t think anybody wants to see [Union] close,” Bedwell said, “so [the fans] come out and support us at anything.”

“I think [being on the last Union team] is kind of usual right now,” added freshman Bill Smith, “but when I look back on it, it’ll probably be kind of weird.”

Smith still has the promise of being a four-year varsity player himself, and he probably has Union to thank for that. While the ninth-grader showed his quickness and his moxie Saturday, scoring seven points against the Cardinals, he may not have gotten a varsity opportunity at some other schools.

Just how tall are you, he was asked.

“I measured myself two days ago,” Smith said proudly, “and I was 4-foot-11 3/4.”

I told Smith he wasn’t even the shortest Bulldog basketball player I’d seen. I remember a basket from 4-11 freshman Tim Hale bringing down the house during a Clay City Sectional game a few decades ago.

“I’ve heard that from a lot of people,” said Smith, who — unlike Hale at the time — is in the starting lineup.

Hale grew up to be a 6-footer and a very good player for the Bulldogs. Smith is going to be a good player too, no matter how tall.

But while there could be an under-the-table recruiting battle for Bedwell’s services next season — the 6-1 sophomore is also a very good baseball player — it make take a battle for Smith or his classmates like 5-8 forward Melidian Maze or 5-10 starting power forward Parker Lovelace to make a team and continue working on what Pigg has been teaching them.

And they won’t be wearing gold and black.

Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at 812-231-4277 or 1-800-783-8742; by email at andy.amey@tribstar.com; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at 812-231-4321. Follow TribStarAndy on Twitter.

 

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