JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. --- For the first time in more than a decade, our holiday basketball tournament won't include the animated foot-stomping, River Dance passion of Josh Buffington on the sidelines.
Back to a time when LeBron James was only 23 and Tom Brady was still considered young ... at least by his standards.
This Joe Machens Great 8 Classic just won't be the same.
Buffington, the former Helias head coach, won 195 games in his tenure with the Crusaders and directed them to seven district championships and three Final Fours. He stepped down in May in large part to coach his sons, who are now in fourth and fifth grade.
"I'm being able to scratch the (coaching) itch with them," Buffington, 41, said. "It's a great way for me to stay somewhat attached to the place I love and obviously, be able to focus the majority of my time with the game on my own kids and their friends."
Last weekend, Buffington coached his boys in no less than 10 games in three days, so ... "I really don't have time to miss it. And spending time on the sidelines with my kids is something I've missed."
Buffington's teams had some memorable runs at the Machens Great 8 Classic, including some unforgettable battles with Michael Porter Jr. and Father Tolton.
"This was always a tournament that we could look back on," Buffington said, "and say it was the turning for us, whether we went 1-2, 2-1 or 3-0. It's such a great tournament because of the competition, obviously, but you have to prepare in less than 24 hours for your next game --- not only for different personnel, but for a different style. It just really challenged us.
"It's been a great tournament and will continue to be a great tournament."
The lure of coaching on a higher level still tugs at Buffington, at times.
"Obviously, I miss the kids, the camaraderie, the big practices, the big games ... that's just part of being a coach," Buffington said. "But I know the program's in great hands with Joe."
That would be first-year head coach Joe Rothweiler, who served as Buffington's assistant the last 10 years. The Crusaders are off to a 2-4 start, thanks to a brutal schedule and the season-ending knee injury suffered by multi-talented guard Marcus Anthony.
"We're not where we want to be right now, record-wise, but I love the group of guys we have," Rothweiler, 36, said. "They come to work every single day and they make it fun."
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