20 years ago, Craig Giesy and John King were making a tournament run as a part of the Bristol boys basketball team. Now, they’re doing it again, but in different roles.
King, a first-team all-Ohio and co-player of the year that season, now runs the bench for his alma mater’s girls program and Giesy, a special mention that year before being named first-team all-Ohio player during his senior year the following season, is doing the same for the boys.
As the 20th anniversary of Bristol’s state semifinals appearance approaches on March 21, the former teammates, now coaches, looked back a little on their time on the court as opposed to the sidelines.
It all started in the pit.
Not a literal pit, but the court in Giesy’s backyard nicknamed “The Pit,” where Giesy now runs a basketball camp.
“They tore the court up at the school here, and my dad built a court in his backyard at the bottom of the hill in the summer of 2000 and they called it ‘The Pit’,” Giesy said. “We started playing there three days a week with all of the alumni on some really good Bristol teams before and they kind of beat us up and showed us the way and then we weren’t afraid to go play anywhere we could. On top of a few of us putting in a lot of work on our own. As we were getting older, we got in the weight room and did some different things as much as we needed to.
“Then what it came down to was we got very competent in what we did. It was a little a little different. We scored a lot of points. We were up and down, ran a ‘run-and-gun’ style and we had a lot of fun.”
The run-and-gun Panthers were East Suburban Conference champions and finished the regular season with a 19-1 record with the lone blemish coming against Badger in a 62-56 loss.
The regular season ended with a bang as both King and Giesy reached the 1,000-point threshold in the regular season finale, a 67-51 win over McDonald.
Over the course of the regular season, Bristol averaged a hair over 79 points per game, and scored 80 or more points 11 times.
The district stage of the tournament started with a 1-point victory over Chalker, a win over Kirtland, then culminated with a win over Windham, which is still a game that sticks out in both coaches’ minds to this day, as both laughed as it was mentioned.
Nowadays, Bristol and Windham are in the Northeast Athletic Conference together, so they face off twice a year. Back then, Windham was still in the Portage County League, which made the district final held at Cardinal High School in Middlefield all the more exciting.
“We were the one and two seeds and the game had been talked about the entire year in anticipation,” Giesy said. “When we walked in, an hour and a half before the game, the stands were already packed and the student sections were already chatting back and forth. I remember stretching and they’re chanting, yelling and making fun of us.”
Giesy had the last laugh, scoring the last 14 points as Bristol rallied back from a 9-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win the heated game 76-71 and advance to the regional stage in Canton.
What sticks out the most to King, something he reminds his players of now, is the bonds in between games and the little moments in practice or traveling with teammates.
“You don’t remember every play of every game, but what you do remember, I remember the things we did as friends together, the memories we made.” King said. “Every game along the way, those kind of fade away, but the memories you make with your friends last forever ingrained in your mind. A big part about it is to just enjoy the whole process that you’re going through with each other. It’s got to be fun and we definitely made it fun. The group we had was special.”
In Canton, the Panthers took down Sebring (64-50) and Strausburg-Franklin (62-56) to advance to the program’s first State Final Four since 1994.
One thing that was never an issue with Bristol was confidence. While not cocky about it, the Bristol core were willing to take on anyone in their way.
“Our coaches always said we had the best team, the best cheerleaders and the best fans in the state,” King said. “We really believed, as crazy as we were, LeBron (James) was going through (high school) at that time. We actually thought we could beat LeBron. We wanted to set up scrimmages in the summer against them because we legit that we could beat the James Gang. We were very confident to say the least.”
At the now-Schottenstein Center in Columbus, the Panthers took the floor with plenty of confidence, but couldn’t seal the deal in a 80-53 loss to the eventual state champion Delphos St. John.
Giesy led the Panthers that evening with 19 points and four rebounds. King added nine points and three steals.
Ten years after that game, Giesy took the helm of the program and Bristol hasn’t looked back.
Since taking over at his alma mater, the 2003 graduate has racked up over 200 coaching wins and has had five seasons with more than 20 wins.
King, who is in his eighth year with Bristol has seen similar success, approaching his 100th win with the program.
While most other communities in the area plan their high school seasons around football, in Bristolville and West Farmington, things are different.
Nights in September and October aren’t spent out under the lights, they’re spent in the gym preparing for basketball season to begin and the players and coaches alike are doing the extra work needed to make sure the season lasts until March.
That community-wide love of basketball is why Giesy is here.
“What’s special about Bristol that not a lot of areas have is our fan base. Our fan base is special,” he said. “I think everybody in our league would agree that whether it’s junior high, girls, boys, it doesn’t matter, that our community whether it’s in the stands or just from afar, they support us. The alumni that have left continue to reach out to us and support us through social media and through our phone to contact us.
“I didn’t plan on coming back to Bristol necessarily to coach but one of the draws is it’s one of the better places in our area to coach because of the people that surround and support us.”
The Bristol girls play in the Division IV Grand Valley District finals tomorrow against defending state runners-up McDonald at 7 p.m.
The boys host Hartville Lake Center Christian tonight at 7 p.m. in their sectional bracket final matchup. A Panther win will put them in the boys Grand Valley District semifinals with a showdown between the winner of Ashtabula St. John and Mathews.
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