PINE RIVER -- Joe Bueckers has a problem that is eating at him.
It's not the fact he was adopted at an early age. It's not the fact he's the only black teen in his school.
The problem is his team has not made it to the state basketball tournament.
Bueckers, a 5-foot-7 shooting guard for the 10th-ranked Pine River-Backus Tigers, has led his team the last two years to the Section 7AA championship game only to be knocked off by the Crosby-Ironton Rangers. This year he hopes to change that.
"Everyone has to play together for us to make it to state," said Bueckers. "We just have to do all the fundamental things that will get us there. If we do those things we'll have a really good chance."
Bueckers was born in San Antonio, Texas, and was adopted by John and Marilyn Bueckers of Pine River.
"When I was younger it was harder for me because I really didn't understand the process of it and what was really going on," said Bueckers. "As I got older I realized what was going on and it's been fine.
"I have to thank my parents because without them I don't know where I would be now."
Along with being adopted Bueckers has had to deal with the fact he is the only black in his school and growing up in a white neighborhood wasn't always easy.
"Sometimes I did feel different being the only African American in the whole school," said Bueckers. "It was kind of hard but it all worked out. I get along with people just fine.
"It is really hard to be the only one," said Bueckers. "It's been really nice that Shaun Howard (assistant coach who is also black) moved into the district my sophomore year. To have him to hang around and talk about things has been really helpful."
Being a basketball player on a successful team has helped the community get to know Bueckers. He also said it gives him a chance to be a role model for children.
"They really look up to you," said the senior. "They're really excited to see you play. When they get to know you through sports they realize what type of person you are."
Bueckers picked up a basketball when he was 2 and hasn't stopped. Through basketball he's had the opportunity to meet interesting people and create good friendships.
"I met Johnny Gilbert at the Clem Haskins camp my sophomore year," Bueckers said about his friend who plays for Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis and has signed a letter of intent with the University of Oklahoma. "Everyone was looking at him because he was about 6-foot-7. Everyone was just in awe. It was just really exciting to see a big guy like that who had a lot of talent.
"I just went up to him and started talking to him and that's how it all got started. It was nice to get to know him because he's a really nice person to talk about colleges and to get advice from him."
The two have given each other an outlet to learn and experience new things. Thanks to Bueckers, Gilbert now knows what a northern pike looks like.
"After his Christmas tournament (in 1998) he came up," Bueckers said. "He had never been ice fishing before so we took him out spearing. That was a lot of fun. He ended up spearing a northern. That was really exciting for him."
Bueckers plans to play basketball next year at a community college and after that he hopes to go into physical education and coaching so he can remain active in basketball.
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