BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — In this season’s first two games, Petar Bebic didn’t score.
At first, that was a concern for the senior guard on the Shenendehowa boys’ basketball team. More of an offensive threat than a defensive ace as a junior when he helped the Plainsmen to a state championship, Bebic worried he might find his way to the bench if his statistical contributions did not improve.
But a talk with head coach Tony Dzikas about the subject made something clear to Bebic: What the numbers look like next to the senior’s name in the box score mean little this season.
“He told me that I’m still valuable even if I’m not scoring 20,” Bebic said.
Or even fewer.
“We’ve got enough kids that can score and shoot,” Dzikas said. “We’ve had games this year where we scored 80 and he scored zero. We’re OK with that.”
In all, Bebic — who averaged 8.8 points per game last season with a high-game of 25 points — did not register a point in five regular season games. But, in those contests, Shenendehowa never suffered a loss and carried an average margin of victory of 38.8 points.
What the Plainsmen — 20-0 overall, and ranked No. 1 for the Section II Class AA playoffs; the squad will next play in the Feb. 20 quarterfinals against No. 8 Schenectady — need from Bebic is for him to make the team’s small-ball style possible. A guard, Bebic has spent most of his senior season playing down low on defense and taking on more of a facilitating role on offense.
“If I score, that’s a bonus,” Bebic said. “If I don’t score, but I play well on defense and do other things, that’s what matters most from me.”
“He does what’s best for the team. Sometimes, that means he doesn’t shoot that much, but he does other things that not everyone sees,” Shenendehowa senior guard Mike Collins said. “Petar is willing to do whatever we need to win.”
On offense, that’s meant fewer shots. He still hangs out on the perimeter, but his spot in the Plainsmen’s attack is used more to make plays for others than to get shots. He averaged 5.5 points per game during the regular season and made 17 3-pointers — down from 34 during last year’s campaign.
Defensively, though, is where Bebic’s role has changed the most from last season. In Shenendehowa’s 3-2 zone defense, he’s moved from the top to the bottom and regularly has to contend with Section II’s biggest players. Standing 6-foot-3, Bebic is undersized to deal with guys like Guilderland’s 6-foot-9 senior center Andrew Sischo.
“I was kind of nervous about him,” said Bebic, laughing. “I just kept my hands up the whole time.”
But in Shenendehowa’s best lineup — Bebic, Collins, junior guard Luke Hicks, senior guard Kevin Huerter, and senior center Mike Pizziketti — Bebic is the next-best defensive option down low after Pizziketti. That keeps Collins and Hicks at their natural positions, and saves the 6-foot-6 Huerter — the team’s top star — from the extra bangs and bruises he’d take defending in the paint on a full-time basis.
“Petar is our best ‘4’ in that lineup, and he’s willing to do it,” Dzikas said.
“All year, he’s been a team-first player,” Huerter said of his teammate.
Bebic plans to play hoops in college, likely either at McGill University in Montreal — he was born in Toronto — or SUNY Oneonta. A full-time shift back to the perimeter and more chances to score are likely in his future.
For now, though, Bebic’s willingness to handle the dirty work is one of the key components in a special season for Shenendehowa, which is attempting to repeat as Section II and state champions.
“He’s got all the intangibles we need to have on the floor,” Dzikas said.