By KIM NORTH
Times Leader Sports Writer
Ben and his Jets will be appearing at a local gymnasium near you this winter.
PICTURED IS the 2013-14 Union Local basketball team. Sitting is manager Jake Boyd. Kneeling, left to right, are Spencer Ware, Kaleb McDiffitt, Cody Tipton, Eric Dunfee, Ryan Groves and Jarret Causby. Standing, left, to right, are Patrick Abboud, Colton Burnheimer, David Paulick, Colton McKivitz, Trenton Tipton, Demetree Turner and Gavin Porter.
After a 2-year sabatical in which he took an administrative position, Ben Porter is back in the cockpit of the Union Local boys' basketball program.
However, Porter didn't walk away from the program entirely. He still helped out good friend Vaughn Butler during his 2-year stint.
"I never really got out of coaching," Porter allowed. "With our coaching staff, you're never out of it. Vaughn did a great job in his two years, and I'm happy to have him on this year's staff. As coaches, we try and set an example for the kids. We, the coaching staff, get along great, so maybe that will wear off on the kids. It's not like we're going to change a whole lof things. The kids should know what to expect."
What does Porter expect from the kids?
"We've got a good group of kids back," he was quick to point out. "We've got a good core group of players back that have the potential to do some good things, but potential is one thing, and actually going out and proving it is another.
"The kids have been working very hard and that's all you can ask for as a coach," he continued. "That's what we ask from the kids at this time of the year."
Porter has seven players returning for another season, but one big cog from the last few years has graduated, that being Jacob Bailey.
"We lost a good one in Jacob," Porter said of the 4-year letterwinner who scored 1,000-plus points in his career before suffering a season-ending knee injury laste last season. "Anytime you have to replace a player like that, it's tough."
In addition to Bailey, also graduating was Collin Jones.
However, the cupboard is far from being bare as a plethora of bodies highlight the group of seven returnees.
"We've got some pretty good-sized kids," Porter admitted, "but we've also got some pretty good guards."
Colton McKivitz is a 6-7, 250-pound junior center, while David Paulick is a 6-4, 230-pound sophomore center. The Tipton brothers - senior Cody and sophomore Trenton - both stand 6-3, as does sophomore Colton Burnheimer. Senior Eric Dunfee (6-1); junior Jarret Causby (6-0); and sophomores Patrick Abboud (6-1) and Demetree Turner (6-0) are all 6-foot or above.
Only four players on the roster are under 6-foot, but two of those are 5-11 - juniors Gavin Porter and Ryan Groves. The team is completed by junior Spencer Ware (5-9) and sophomore Kaleb McDiffitt (5-7).
"We've got that nice blend of size inside and good guard play," Porter added. "I think we will be more multi-dimensional than any other team I've coached."
Dunfee and Cody Tipton are the lone seniors, something that has been the norm at UL the last years, but it doesn't bother Porter.
"Things go in cycles like that," he explained. "We've got big junior and sophomore classes, so that bodes well for the future."
But for Porter and his staff, the future is this season.
"I think we can be competitive with our schedule the way it is," he added. "The Buckeye 8 is always going to be a war. That will never change. Our non-conference games are also tough ones in John Marshall, Buckeye Trail and Beallsville."
In a change from last season at this point, the Jets are at full strength. Last season, Dunfee, Gavin Porter and McKivitz were hobbled by injuries they sustained playing football. Dunfee and McKivitz escaped this season injury-free, while Porter opted not to play while concentrating on basketball.
"Eric is a very athletic kid," Coach Porter said of his 3-year regular. "He has the capability to play any position on the court. He has the toughness to play on the inside, while also being able to step out and knock down the three-pointer.
"We are looking for a lot of leadership from Eric and Cody," the coach added.
Porter started last season slowly because of a right shoulder (his shooting arm) injury he sustained last in the Jets' 2012 football campaign. He will be counted upon for a lot of scoring and playmaking.
"Gavin is a solid shooter. He's one of those catch-and-shoot players, so I think our style of play will play into his strength," Coach Porter said. "He's healthy and ready to go."
McKivitz will be a handful for opponents in the paint because of his size and ability.
"Our expectations are high for Colton," Porter noted. "We need him around the basket, especially on the defensive end where he can change a game by altering shots. The more he is on the floor for us, the better."
Causby, Groves, Turner and Ware will also see playing time.
Running the Jets offense for the second straight year will be McDiffitt, the cat-quick point guard, who also opted not to play football after a splendid freshman season.
"Kaleb started every game for us as a freshman," Porter recalled. "He's our playmaker. He's an exceptional athlete with good ballhandling skills. We're expecting a lot from him."
Trenton Tipton will be counted on for solid play on the baseline.
"Trenton started some as a freshman," Porter said. "He's very versatile and fits well into our system. He can go to the basket or shoot it from deep."
Tipton is recovering from a knee injury he sustained over the summer, which caused him to miss the entire 2013 football season.
"He's healthy and ready to go," the coach said.
Paulick, Burnheimer, Turner and Abboud will spell the big guys inside.
Junior Jason Turner (6-2); sophomores Brady Lucas (5-8), Tristen Price (5-10), Devon Bradley (6-0) and Issac Goodson (5-11); along with freshmen Zack Lucas (5-9), TJ Kelly (5-10), Robert Roof (6-1), Isaiha Meyer (5-6) and Nick Bilyeu (5-8) comprise the JV squad.
In addition to Butler, the coaching staff consists of Zach Delman, Nick Nardo and Bob Nixon.