Dragons’ Flannery making some history of his own on court

The little kid who used to follow his hero around and have the best view at Bucknell basketball games truly has become his father’s son.

Ask most high school basketball players or coaches about Jesse Flannery and they describe him a similar way: a coach on the floor.

It makes perfect sense. Flannery’s father, Pat, is the most successful coach in Bucknell history, leading the Bison to consecutive Patriot League championships and NCAA tournament wins in 2005 and 2006. Now it is Jesse making the headlines. The Lewisburg point guard is having his best season and is a big reason his team is District 4 Class AA champions for the first time since 2000 and just the second time in program history.

“I always wanted to do this. I was on the bench with the (Bucknell) players growing up and I was constantly around basketball. I loved it,” Flannery said following Saturday’s 61-45 championship win over Loyalsock. “I think one of the my biggest assets is knowing the game and knowing situations. I think that just comes from being around the game so long.”

Flannery learned a lot from watching his father coach and his teams play. Just as important, he learned about the intangibles it takes for players and teams to excel. Bucknell shocked the college basketball world in 2005 when it beat Kansas and became the Patriot League’s first-ever tournament winner. Flannery knows as well as anyone that victory was not born from superior talent but from old-fashioned hard work.

And that is how Lewisburg’s senior captain has become one of the district’s premier point guards. Flannery does not take a play or a day off and his teammates have followed that example.

“He just has so much basketball knowledge and he’s the best leader I’ve ever played with,” Lewisburg forward Sam Allen said. “He’s a great guy, a great friend of mine and without him, our team wouldn’t run the same. He keeps us all under control.”

Flannery and Lewisburg (23-3) hope to extend their season Saturday at Shikellamy when they face Mid-Valley in the opening round of the state tournament. A lot of players are responsible for Lewisburg reaching this game, but Flannery might be the most valuable.

The statistics do not jump off the page but Flannery’s value cannot be found in a boxscore. Lewisburg has resembled a smooth running car this season, winning 21 of its 23 games by double-digit margins. He is not the leading scorer, shooter or rebounder. But Flannery is the one powering that engine.

Flannery was at his best against two-time defending district champion Loyalsock last Saturday. The Lancers (24-3) had won eight straight against Lewisburg, including two in the final seconds earlier this season, and feature one of the district’s best full-court press defenses.

In front of a huge crowd at Milton and in the biggest game of his scholastic career, Flannery stood tall. He helped Lewisburg stay calm after Loyalsock took a 19-11 first-quarter lead and he carved up the press as the Dragons dominated the final three quarters, slayed their nemesis and left a huge mark on program history.

Flannery finished with 12 points, six assists and hit four of his six shots, including two 3-pointers at key times. It was the way he settled the team, the way he led it, however, that meant so much more.

“He took it upon himself. When he has the ball in his hands you know their mistakes are going to be minimized. He’s that strong,” Loyalsock coach Ron Insinger said. “He took care of the basketball and he prevented Lewisburg from making those big mistakes and prevented us from forcing turnovers because he had the ball in his hands more than we wanted him to.”

As the final seconds ticked away and Lewisburg burned the clock, Flannery literally was bouncing for joy. He had watched his father’s teams win huge games, but this was even better. This time, Flannery was the one helping make it happen.

“Just the way it happened with us over the last three years losing to them made it so sweet,” Flannery said. “It just really felt good so when it was closing down I just couldn’t keep it in.”

An excellent student as well, Flannery will attend Johns Hopkins next fall and will bring an impressive resume. As a player he has grown more polished each season and has elevated his performance in the playoffs, reaching double figures in all three games after averaging 8 points per game during the regular season.

Lewisburg took down two league champions on its way to capturing the district title and handed Loyalsock is worst loss to a District 4 team since the 2010-11 season opener. He also had 14 assists in those three wins by a combined 47 points and was part of an outstanding defense that did not surrender more than 47 points.

“He’s had an unbelievable season for us,” Lewisburg coach John Vaji said. “He’s one of the keys to why we are where we are.”

Nine years ago, Flannery watched his father help take Bucknell on an unprecedented journey. Now the player with basketball in his blood is trying to do the same at Lewisburg. He might make a fine coach some day, but right now Lewisburg is happy Flannery is a fine player. And the coach’s son is working on earning an even higher rank.

“He picked up our team when we were down (Saturday) and made sure we finished it off at the end,” Lewisburg forward Nadir Boone said. “Jesse is a great factor. He’s a great floor leader.

“He’s a great floor general.”