A late hire as the Kewanee High School boys' basketball coach in September of 2011, Steve Salisbury didn't get much of a chance to work with his new team prior to the season.The late start and hasty make-up preparation showed at times throughout a 10-18 season that included a 5-9 Three Rivers Conference campaign.|
A lost summer of work, however, doesn't compare to the loss that Salisbury recently suffered when his father passed away.
Having the chance to spend a full summer together made a world of difference in the outlook for the team. On a different level, Salisbury's personal loss has also had a positive affect on the club.
After opening with a 2-2 start at the Orion Tip-Off Classic in late November, the Boilermakers didn't wait long to hit their collective stride. They have won 14 of 15 games since then for a 16-3 mark, and sit perched atop the TRAC-9 standings at 9-0 in just the program's third year as a league member.
"Last year, we didn't have a summer to work together,'' said Salisbury, whose club has won seven in a row since losing to Peru St. Bede in the Marseilles Holiday Tournament finals. "This summer, I thought it went well. We had a first team all-conference kid back in Dayton (senior guard Dayton Ince), and he's been a super leader all year.''
There have been other keysto the Boilers' resurgence, though. Donovan Oliver, a6-foot-4 AAU-tested freshman forward, has emerged to average 15 points and 10 rebounds per game to go with Ince's 16 points and five assists. Seniors Matt Gustafson and Dalton Nuding are each averaging 10 points per game.
"When we got Donovan into the mix, sure he was a freshman, but he gave us the size we needed,'' said Salisbury. "We knew we were pretty athletic as a team, and we had high hopes going in.''
For Salisbury, whose very last name is steeped in Kewanee athletic tradition, the success his team has given him has also provided a comfort zone in what has been a very tough time for him and his family.
Recently, Salisbury lost his 85-year-old father Gerald, causing him to step away from the game for a spell. When he returned, he found he looked at basketball in a much different light.
"First of all, the team was super. With what I went through, they rallied behind me, and we've been able to use basketball as an outlet,'' Salisbury stated. "At the same time, something like this keeps you grounded and helps you understand there are more important things in life.
"After I lost my father, I said to my kids that I realize basketball is important, and you try to win every game, but in the big picture, basketball is something that's fun and that will always be there. When you lose a parent, that puts it all into perspective.''
That renewed sense of perspective has helped Salisbury guide his club into the thick of what is still a tight TRAC-9 boys' race, with Sterling Newman (15-4, 6-1), Erie (16-9, 6-3) and Riverdale (11-10, 6-3) all still within striking distance of the Boilermakers. Last Friday, Kewanee held off the Rams on its home court for a 78-73 win.
"The crowd support here has been great for the last two weeks, and we hope to keep it rolling,'' said Salisbury, whose club welcomes Prophetstown (11-10, 5-4) to Brockman Gymnasium tonight at 7:30. "We're hoping to show that Kewanee basketball is back.''
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