After helping Fort Osage’s boys basketball team to its first-ever district title as a sophomore, it wasn’t easy for Brian Starr to miss his junior season and watch the Fort Osage boys win the second of what is now three straight Class 5 District 14 titles, then win again in sectionals before falling to eventual state champion Rockhurst.
The beginning of Starr’s senior season proved no walk in the park, either, as the 6-foot-2 guard sometimes found himself at odds with Indians coach Josh Wilson.
Now, it’s a smooth operation all around. Fort Osage’s 49-43 district championship win Friday over Kearney marked 14 wins in 15 games for the Indians, who take a 19-6 record into Wednesday’s *15 p.m. Class 5 sectional playoff against Lee’s Summit at the Independence Events Center.
Starr is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game, and he leads the squad with 5.6 rebounds per game, 60 total assists and 42 steals.
As a junior, though, he played one game before some off-the-court family issues kept him off the court.
“It was a bad break for the kid,” said Wilson, who admits he’s had plenty of “what if” thoughts, imagining how Starr’s presence could have helped the Indians possibly reach the state final four last season. “The kid’s hands were tied, and he had to be away from basketball for a whole year.”
“I went and watched a few (games),” Starr said, “but it was kind of emotional. I did go to a few to support them.
“That made it really emotional,” he said of Friday’s game. “What made it that much sweeter was we came together as a team. After losing a leader like D’Vante Mosby (an all-state player who just finished a stellar freshman season at William Jewell College), we all stepped and led as a team.”
Starr played AAU basketball last summer, and Wilson was glad to have him back in the fold, even if the re-acclimation wasn’t easy.
“He and I butted heads extremely hard very early in the season,” Wilson said. “He was an integral part two years ago, and he would’ve been an integral part last year, and he wanted to come in and be able to take charge. I could tell during the summer that wouldn’t happen.”
Wilson’s Indians lost Mosby and four other top forwards from last season, but starting guards Will Penamon and Skyler Thompson returned. The coach said Starr needed to be more disciplined in practices – to improve his conditioning, rebounding and decision-making.
“You’re going to be hard to guard, because you can do things others can’t do,” Wilson said, recalling a conversation with Starr. “Every kid wants to score 25 points a game, and you can do that, but how successful is the team going to be?
“Assists and steals have become really important to him,” Wilson said. “He’s taken over some games, and it’s not been with points. (Rebounding) has been a major key. He’s our leading rebounder, and he enjoys that.”
“It was difficult,” Starr said, acknowledging the earlier qualms, “but I like the role Coach has got me playing, and it works best for the team.
“I knew I would have to crash the boards a lot harder this year. When I saw I was good at it, I made it my job to crash even harder.”
Wilson noted Starr’s increased efficiency on offense. He’s shooting 62 percent from the field, including 45 percent on 3-pointers, whereas through the first eight games Wilson pegged those numbers at 41 and 20 percent, respectively. Starr said can feel that efficiency, not just see it by the numbers.
“My decision-making (has improved), being able to lead my team and being more efficient on the court,” he said.
With Starr on board, water bug point guard Penamon ceded some of the ball-handling responsibilities, something that’s especially effective given Starr’s athleticism and ability to shoot and pass.
“He likes to go really hard, and he’s really crafty, Penamon said. “His ball-handling skills are good, and it’s tough to pinpoint defenses on one person when he’s got the ball.”
Penamon said he also appreciates how Starr has shouldered a big rebounding load this season.
“That helps build up confidence for the shooter,” the junior said, “knowing there’s someone that can get mean down there.
“He’s a dog, and he’ll go get it.”