Coach Busick Has Eagles Basketball Flying High
Writer / Ray Compton
Photographer / JJ Kaplan
Here’s a heads-up for all the boys basketball players ages 5 years and up in Zionsville. There’s an English teacher at the local high school with his eyes on you.
Now, this particular English teacher at Zionsville High School has not started measuring your skills when identifying hanging participles, linking verbs or dangling modifiers. Instead Eagles Basketball Coach Shaun Busick – who daily teaches six English classes — is monitoring your dribbling, shooting and other basketball skills. He keeps his finger on the pulse of more than 1,000 potential future basketball players who someday may be playing in his Mulberry Street gymnasium.
“I can probably give you the names of most of our kids playing kindergarten basketball,” admitted the effervescent Busick, who has turned the 2014-15 Eagles into one of the most feared teams in Indiana. “Our master plan is to develop a total program from first grade to 12th grade.”
That plan starts unfolding with the Indy Hoops youth program sprinkled throughout the Boone County community. Coaches at the two middle schools, several elementary schools and other youth programs are provided with copies of the Busick basketball manuscript, R.I.S.E. The letters translate to Responsibility, Integrity, Selflessness and Effort.
And while the Game According to Busick may include tips and strategies on playing basketball, the core message includes passages about leading by example, being trusted to do the right thing, embracing a role to the fullest, and persevering through difficult times.
To college basketball worshipers, the philosophy shadows the work of former UCLA Coach John Wooden and his Principles for Success.
“There are a lot of variables involved when it comes to winning and losing,” said Busick. “That’s why you can’t always put stocks into how many games you win or lose. Success is a peace of mind that you did the best that you can do.”
Before setting anchor in Zionsville nine years ago, Busick encountered the best and worst of coaching high school basketball in Indiana. The former baseball player at Grace College speared his first head coaching job at Argos in 1991-92. Argo was in the throes of a 28-game losing streak.
“I think I got the job because no one else wanted the job,” confessed Busick.
Busick guided the Dragons to an opening night win and two appearances in the sectional finals. But after massaging a victory-starved 11-50 record, he noted “that it was time to move on.”
Following a year as an assistant at Lebanon, the Portage native headed south to North Knox. His quintet turned into a dangerous foe, rising to No. 5 in the 2A state poll in his second season. A 29-16 overall mark propelled Busick into a desired commodity at other Hoosier ports. One of those calling was Bellmont, a 3A school outside of Fort Wayne.
“It was a wrestling school,” Busick said.
But there was a lot brewing in the Decatur County community of Berne. First, the Dilley sextuplets moved from Indianapolis to town in 1997. A year later, a fabled basketball player enrolled at Bellmont after leading his middle school team to a 43-0 record in two years. That was the same year Busick arrived and he watched in his astonishment when he saw scrawny Seth Colclasure, at 5’11” and 135 pounds, compete in a progressive summer league competition.
“He was one of Indiana’s five best shooters — ever,” remembered the coach.
During his freshman season, Colclasure was all-conference. In another year, he made a stunning 167 of 171 free throw attempts. “When he hit the rim, the crowd would gasp,” recalled Busick of his sharpshooter, who made 511 of 546 free throws in his four seasons at Bellmont and finished second to Sean May as Mr. Basketball in Indiana.
Overall, the Braves won five sectional titles during Busick’s seven years and lost to Evansville Mater Dei in the 2004 3A state championship game. A year later, Busick and wife Cathleen yearned to return to northwest Indiana following the birth of their son, Drew. Both wanted to be closer to their families and thought Crown Point could be a long-term stop.
“It wasn’t a good fit for Crown Point or me,” Busick admitted.
But as noted in his writing of R.I.S.E., Busick persevered during the difficult session and landed the Zionsville position in 2006. His Eagle teams have gone 105-65 and the best may be yet to come during the 2014-15 season. Zionsville has been named by The Indianapolis Star as a Top 10 team and many expect the Eagles to battle Brownsburg for the Hoosier Crossroads Championship.
“Zionsville is a great academic school and we have the best kids around,” said Busick, who teams up with Cathleen in the school’s English department. “And the administration has allowed us to build the program from the ground up.”
The partnership between coach and school may pay big dividends this season. Not only is there potential for giant results in victories, but there are big Eagles in the paint. The frontline enlists 7-foot senior Derrik Smits, 6’7” Guerin Wagner and 6’5” Chris Pappas. Another big body will appear in December when 6’8”, 225-pound Cassis Smits-Francisco returns from surgery after suffering an ACL tear. Smits-Francisco, the cousin of Smits, is already on the recruiting radar of Purdue, Indiana State, Ball State, Mississippi and Valparaiso universities.
“He will help us greatly,” remarked Busick.
In the meantime, it will be another Valparaiso recruit, Derrik, creating match-up challenges for opponents.
“His strength and athleticism have improved,” said Busick. “He is also tougher mentally. He has high skills and a high basketball IQ. I am not saying he will play in the NBA, but he has a shot to play somewhere professional.”
A trio of guards will balance the Zionsville attack. Marksman Jake Morris and gifted point guard Braden Hall will direct the offense most of the time, but waiting is the wings is freshman Riley Bertram who was promoted to the varsity after a sparkling summer showing.
“Jumping from eighth grade to varsity is going to be a learning curve,” Busick said. “But he will eventually be a great guard.”
Additional strengths of the program include the coaching talents employed by the Green machine. Former Hoosier Phil Isenbarger has taught Smits the hook shot; longtime Indiana coaching legend Basil Mawbry has helped insert a troublesome zone defense; and Busick calls top aide Kevin Branigan “the best assistant in Indiana.”
And when March arrives, this could be a history-making Zionsville team. The Eagles have not won a sectional title in 20 years. But a title will not come easy. Lurking in the sectional will be Carmel, North Central, Hamilton Southeastern, Fishers and Noblesville. Indeed, a scary proposition.
“I’ve told the team that if we can win the sectional, we can win the state,” said Busick. “I want to win the state title. We didn’t come here to win a sectional.”
Should the Eagles fall short in either category, the pipeline will not dry up soon. Not only does Busick coach his son’s third grade team, but the English teacher is eyeballing every other little dribbler.