It didn’t take long for those around the Coon Rapids basketball program to find out who Chris Buckley is.
The junior guard first appeared inside the Coon Rapids fieldhouse for pickup basketball ahead of the official start to the hoops season in November.
“I was just the new guy, I guess,” Buckley said, who came from Minneapolis North where he played on the junior varsity team as a sophomore as well as with two AAU programs, Minnesota Phenom and Minnesota Elite. “Someone just told me to come in and tryout so I did and I guess they didn’t know I could move that good.”
“He would just come in hitting left and right, everything. It was crazy,” junior teammate Timmy Nguyen said, seeing Buckley compete during open gym time. “We’re happy he’s playing with us. He’s a cool guy.”
Fast forward to late January and not only is Buckley a staple in the starting line-up for new coach Mike Ogorek, but he’s the starting point guard and leading scorer (22 points per game) in his first varsity season.
Despite the lack of winning, the Cardinals have developed a solid back court with Buckley and Nguyen. The pair have learned a lot.
“We can definitely be a good threat not only this year but next year being seniors with so much chemistry,” Buckley said about his back court partner, who is averaging 12.4 points per game.
“Timmy’s grown so much from the beginning of the year with his shot, creating space and definitely becoming a guard we can rely on for slashing points.”
Nguyen said having the positive leadership of Buckley has helped a lot.
“I’d say emotionally and physically,” Nguyen said. “It was terrible last year, we gave no effort and this year – I thought, ‘Why do that?’ We’ve worked the hardest and try to keep the positivity up.
Buckley set the single-game scoring record with 40 points in an 83-81 loss to Blaine Jan. 24.
Nguyen said the team has really tried to use that achievement as a rallying point of positivity in an otherwise down season.
“We played together and did good things as a team that night,” Nguyen said, pointing to the packed stands for the pack-the-gym night at Coon Rapids.
It was Coon Rapids’ seventh straight loss since a 92-72 win over Yellow Medicine East at the Norwood-Young America Invite Dec. 28 after opening the season 0-9.
Nguyen had a season-high 30 points in the win. “It felt amazing,” he said. “We were celebrating it in [the gym], don’t mind us.”
The victory snapped a 36-game losing streak.
“Definitely a relief to get the win, but we could’ve won the game before that,” Buckley said about the 80-75 loss to Buffalo-Lake-Hector-Stewart in the tournament opener one day earlier.
“We’ve just got to come in with that we can beat any team mentality instead of just, they’re big so we’re just going to lose. Expect the best and not the worst,” he said.
Comparing the varsity game to developmental leagues, he likes the atmosphere of the high school game, Buckley said.
“The fans keep me going and there’s the fast pace,” he said. “You never know what is going to happen in a varsity game. You just have to stay on your toes and be aware. You have to pace yourself and not just be so quick.”
Coming into the Jan. 24 game against Blaine, Coon Rapids had lost to Anoka and Centennial each by eight points.
“It’s not like we’re getting beat by 20 points,” he said. “We are actually in a game and know we have to finish strong. We just can’t get down and give up because what would be the point. The positives outweigh the bad.”
Buckley came to the north metro suburb to live with his aunt during the week before returning to be with his mother in their north Minneapolis home on the weekends.
Off the court, Ogorek has been more than a coach, checking in on Buckley to make sure he’s helping his mother and aunt where he can.
“Off the court, he’s a great influence,” Buckley said of the help from Ogorek, who regularly checks in to make sure he is completing homework assignments and doing stuff around the house.
“He’s developing develop me into a good man,” Buckley said.
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