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Bugaj happily making most of time 12/1/21

Bugaj happily making most of time

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 


Benjamin Bugaj doesn’t fret over the mispronunciation of his last name. Bugaj is actually pronounced "Boo-guy." 


But being patient over the way public address announcers call his name pales in comparison to the ride the Alma senior has found himself on. 


Ben Bugaj isn’t just starting for Dominic Lincoln’s Airedales, he’s contributing.


“He’s shown progress even since I’ve been here,” Lincoln said. “Now he’s seeing all the results of his hard work. We’re proud of him because he helps us be a better basketball team.


“I’m happy for Ben, and that’s something anybody can look up to.”


Ben’s happy for himself, too. His laid-back approach defies what he’s accomplished over a short time this season. 


Through four games, Bugaj is shooting 52 percent from the floor (13-for-25) and averaging more minutes (30 of the 32 per game) than anyone else, including leading scorer Hunter McAlister. 


“It’s good to be out there and help the guys and be part of something,” Bugaj said. “As the years went on, I got a little better and now I’m playing better. It puts into perspective that I wasn’t so good early, and now I’m playing more.”


Bugaj and the Airedales (3-1) host Rogers on Friday as part of the two-day Charles B. Dyer Classic. 


“We all thought it was going to be better last year and it just didn’t work out,” he said. “Now, I think it’s more of a team game now. We have to get everybody touches and see how we can get everybody involved as a team.”


Championships aren’t won during the early part of November. But Bugaj’s first field goal attempt of his senior year, a high-arching 3-pointer that hit nothing but net, gave him a shot of adrenaline and justified all of his hard work. 


For the season, in fact, Bugaj is a blistering 6-of-13 (46 percent) from beyond the arc. 


"The thing with Ben, he was one of the last (players) to leave the gym. He would come in here and shoot; it’s all about perseverance,” Lincoln said.


“Some people are more competitive than others,” Bugaj said. “I think I’m pretty competitive.”


A long time ago


This week, the Alma Airedales’ Class of 2027 played their first seventh-grade basketball game. Is there another Ben Bugaj in the mix?


Back in 2017, Bugaj signed on to play for coach Luke Folkerts. He wasn’t quite five feet tall. 


“I was a little bitty kid,” Bugaj said. “I was shorter than most kids. Now, I’m actually a little bigger than some of these guys who were taller than me then.”


He’s starting now, too. 


“I think it shows that if you work hard and stay committed, and you believe in your coaches and the system and yourself, your time will come,” Lincoln said. “I tell kids all the time, ‘You need to be ready.’


“Ben just stuck with it and stuck with it.”


“All kids have the capability to persevere, but Ben stuck with it,” assistant coach Darin Stahler said. “It shows a lot about his character and his fortitude. As an educator and a coach, you root for everybody, but those kids who stay with it, when it pays off, it’s a great feeling to see them succeed.”


Always wrong 


Back in 2020-21, when the Airedales were starting to find their footing, the kid wearing the No. 1 jersey didn’t have to worry about having his name mispronounced. 


It’s a different story this year. 


“They might pronounce it wrong,” Bugaj kidded. “(But) either way, even if they pronounce it wrong, it’s great to be out here with the guys and help the team win and be part of something bigger.”


Bugaj said his dad, Thomas, migrated to the United States as a young child. 


“My dad is actually from Poland,” he said. “I think the name comes from Poland or Germany.”


Bugaj was thrust into the practice rotation in the weeks following the end of the 2020-21 season. But he didn’t think former coach Stan Flenor wasn’t going to be there. 


Flenor announced his retirement last April. 


“At first I was a little upset that coach Flenor left my senior year and I wanted him to be there,” Bugaj said. “(But) once I got to know coach Lincoln I was like, ‘He’s pretty good, I like him.’


“There’s definitely a lot more energy at practice.”


“He spent a lot of time up here shooting,” Stahler said. “He shoots really, really well, too. He played in every JV game we had, and even last year, I think his confidence really improved.”