TUSCOLA — Justin Bozarth couldn’t say with 100 percent certainty whether his leading scorer will be active.
The Tuscola boys’ basketball coach is waiting, along with others within and outside the program, for more concrete news about the health of sophomore point guard Jalen Quinn.
A recruiting target of coach Brad Underwood’s Illinois squad among other Division I men’s outfits, Quinn missed last Friday’s regular-season finale between the Warriors (25-3) and Sullivan with what Bozarth described as “a medical issue.”
“It’s something that just came on, and it’s serious in nature,” Bozarth said on Monday’s “Dick Van Dyke Appliance World Prep Basketball Confidential” show. “It’s not worth it to jeopardize his long-term health.”
Bozarth didn’t have much more news Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after learning third-seeded Tuscola will face 10th-seeded Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (8-21) in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. Class 2A Paxton-Buckley-Loda Regional semifinal.
“We still aren’t sure if he’ll get cleared,” Bozarth said. “He’s been able to do some light shooting thus far.”
So the Warriors are preparing as if Quinn won’t be available Wednesday evening attempting to build upon last year’s surprise 2A regional title victory as a No. 7 seed.
“Guys have had to play different roles,” Bozarth said, “and have done a pretty good job up to this point.”
Tuscola received a little extra prep time in this regard when Quinn fouled out late in games against Altamont and Neoga, less than a week before Friday’s game with Sullivan.
The Warriors won all three of these tilts and enter the playoffs on a six-game win streak.
“Guys weren’t really sure what to expect,” Bozarth said. “But I think they walked out of Sullivan with some confidence that, ‘Hey, we played pretty well down here without our key guy.’”
Senior sixth man Nick Williams has slotted into the starting lineup, and the junior duo of Grant Hardwick and Cole Cunningham is splitting time at point guard.
Junior big Donovan Chester has seen his playing time increase as senior and fellow post presence Jacob Kibler is pulled out to the perimeter more often. Athletes such as junior Ben Tiezzi (10 points against Sullivan) have stepped up off the bench as well.
Bozarth has been impressed, especially with senior Ben Dixon during Quinn’s absence.
“He’s probably playing his best basketball of the year right now,” Bozarth said of Dixon. “You can see the confidence with him, especially on the offensive end. A lot of that has to do with he’s had to play a different role.”
Even with all of these positive strides from Tuscola’s healthy players, they still face a difficult road to repeating as regional champions.
Despite a poor record, GCMS played the Warriors within four points during December’s Monticello Holiday Hoopla. The Falcons also are likely to be fired up after Cade Elliott’s buzzer-beating three-pointer Monday allowed them to upset fifth-seeded Clifton Central 48-45 in a regional quarterfinal game.
Should Tuscola work around GCMS, the Warriors will face regional host and No. 2 seed PBL (26-4) at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Panthers won 56-39 at Tuscola on Jan. 31 after the Warriors defeated PBL 45-39 at the Holiday Hoopla.
“There was no easy path to a regional championship of any kind,” Bozarth said. “If we so happen to come match up with Paxton on their home court, of course that’s something that we’re going to be excited about.”