My annual review of area basketball at the halfway point of the season…a familiar cast of performing programs and why it seems the more things change the more they stay the same.
I’ve done this for several years now, and I think it bears noting. That over the past five years there really hasn’t been much change in area teams who seem destined for high seeds and at least sectional success come next month’s tournament draw.
What this leads to, of course, is my annual mid-term grades for area basketball teams that have impressed through the first half of the season.
Briefly, here they are:
Wayne, in Division I. The defending state champions appear destined to make another run. They’re athletic, they’re skilled, and they’re well-coached.
Tipp City, in Division II. The Red Devils are a bit of a surprise, in fact, given they’ve now had four coaches in three years. But take in account, too, that the CBC is anything but the NBA Western Division.
Versailles, in Division III…Coach Scott McEldowney’s biggest problem seems to be consistency with his 11-3 Tigers, but that comes, in part, from having young talents like sophomore Justin Ahrens, who for his age may have more skills than his graduated brother, Kyle, now playing at Michigan State.
And at Miami East, there’s no denying that the Vikings’ size with Logan West and Damion Mackesy spells trouble for teams that don’t match up, or have an advantage of their own. There’s also the advantage of having Allen Mack, unquestionably one of most respected coaches around.
In Division IV…Ft. Recovery, St. Henry, and Jackson Center all impress me because they play hard, play great defense, and typically share the basketball on offense. The one team I haven’t seen yet (but will soon) is defending champion Tri-Village, which is having another impressive season. The point is, you almost don’t have to see the Patriots play because you know how they’re going to play…because there’s a culture of basketball there, established by head coach Josh Sagester, in what I think is his 12th season.
And the same can be said for every one of the highlighted schools I’ve listed. The “culture” of basketball at these schools distinguishes them from almost every other area school that I didn’t list. The times, they are a changing, and sports ain’t necessarily changing with them.
Likewise, you can make the same statement about area girls.
Defending champ Ft. Loramie has had a big graduation turnover in the last two years. They’re very young and at times reflect that, but they’re also coached by one of the state’s best…Carla Siegel.
You can say the same about Versailles, another defending champ. Young, but learning and improving under a stable coaching staff.
Ft. Recovery is impressive, and has another good tradition in girls basketball, even though it’s been 25 years since the Indians won back-to-back titles in ’90 and ’91.
Anna, and Minster, are having a good years, again. These being some of the teams that I’ve seen personally.
But the issue that I will also share is one pointed out by veteran fans, as well as coaches who’ve left the sidelines in retirement – or for just better mental health. And that issue is the decline of requisite skills in high school basketball.
Shooting is horrendous, despite what one coach recently told me is an all-time high in that particular skill set. Baloney! I personally witnessed a team last week that lost by two because they shot 30% from the free throw line..
Ball-handling and passing are awful in a lot of cases. And you can tell the teams with players that play for the fact of fraternity, rather than a commitment to excellence.
Team defense has always been the difference between good teams and great teams. And why? Because defense is hard work and often overlooked in the box scores. We live in an age of instant and graphic gratification. Players want to see big offensive numbers beside their name.
One can go on with the particulars of why kids can’t play like they once did, and there are those who will argue, saying that AAU and year-round play proves that the competitive bar has actually been raised. But for some, not all.
The average high school program may have two players who actually compete in basketball year round. Others simply hang out in the gym, or come in from football and don’t hit their competitive stride until February.
And if you need statistical verification, I looked at the results of five area games seen in person over the past two weeks, all determined by ten points or less. In every one of the losing team shot less than 60% from the free throw line and committed 15 turnovers or more.
“Kids don’t play enough of the right kind of basketball anymore,” former Springfield South coach Wayne Wiseman told me a couple of years ago. “Back in the day they played as a group in the summer, the same group that played in the winter, and challenged each other every day to improve. Now they play all over the place and come back to school in the fall wishing they were still playing with the guys they played with in the summer.”
Other coaches now out of the sport simply say…they don’t even shoot enough during the off season.
As for the culture of basketball in the schools listed at the top of the page, there is an expectation in those programs, and in most cases, stability. The coaches have been there for a long time…Scott Elchert (Jackson Center), Siegel (Ft. Loramie), Mack (East), and Sagester (Tri-Village). Turnovers are a sure way to lose a basketball game, for sure. But consistent turnover at the top is a sure way of losing a program, as well.
The grades are posted. The second semester starts tomorrow night!