Size, depth will test LHS boys in opener
Wildcats’ 6-foot-7 center will challenge Slater
By Chris Wristen
Lansing High boys' basketball coach Don Allen has had three weeks to instruct his players on offensive and defensive strategy and whip them into shape.
Now it's time to see just how much they've learned.
The young and relatively inexperienced Lions will begin a crash course in Basketball 101 as they play the first of three games in three days when they open their season at 4:45 p.m. today against Harrisonville in the first round of the Bonner Springs Tournament.
Just how ready are the Lions? Time will tell.
"There's going to be some great competition down there and we're going to find out quickly (where we are)," Allen said. "It should be a fun week. We're looking forward to it and we're hoping to play well. I think we will."
LHS will have to play well if it wants to dispose of Harrisonville and advance in the winner's bracket, and that won't be easy to do. Sure, the Wildcats were only 6-18 last season, but the record hasn't fooled Allen one bit. He knows just how tall of a task his Lions are facing - "tall" being the operative word.
Harrisonville's top threat will be 6-foot-7 senior center Drew Gray, who averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds per game last year. Gray was a first-team All-West Central Conference player as a junior. The task of slowing him down will fall on the shoulders of LHS junior forward Jeff Slater who, at 6-foot-2, faces a major size disadvantage.
"I'm going to have a real test inside with that 6-foot-7 kid," Slater said. "I'm going to have a lot of fun with that."
Gray isn't Harrisonville's lone weapon, either. Senior guard Reuben Hartzler was another all-conference pick last year after averaging 11 points and three assists per game for the Wildcats. Senior guard Derek Ayler and senior forward Tyson Travis also are scoring threats after each averaged almost 10 points per game last season.
"This could be a test for us all the way around," Allen said. "If we can't keep them out of the paint then we're kind of dead in the water either way. They're a team that last year was a lot like we are this year. They've got a roster full of seniors, and obviously those guys are experienced players."
Experience isn't the only thing Harrisonville has going for it. Basketball season starts earlier in Missouri than Kansas, so the Wildcats already have had the chance to shake off any first-game jitters.
"That's one of the bad things about seeing Missouri schools early in the year," Allen said. "They already have two or three games on you, and that's going to be the biggest difference. If we stay focused and keep some poise early in the game, hopefully we'll be able to stay with it, stay competitive and give ourselves a chance to win."
Despite playing a team with a major size advantage, the Lions don't plan to change much from their normal strategy. As is often the case in early-season games, the primary focus will be on running their own offense and defense correctly. That's an even greater concern considering LHS has such a young squad.
Slater and junior David Kern are Lansing's lone returning starters, and they will be joined in the starting rotation by a brand new backcourt of Matt Warner, Cody Mohan and Chris Wagner. Ryan Robbins is expected to see some action in the post as well, but after that there are plenty of spots up for grabs.
"We're going to hope to not get into foul trouble," Allen said. "That's the way it's going to have to be for a few games, but we've got to get some other guys on the floor at some point, and it may happen at the Bonner Tournament."
Slater said he hopes the Lions play well and plenty of new guys are able to use the three games to gain experience. That's critical, he said, because Kaw Valley League play starts on Tuesday at Basehor.
"Whether we go 0-3 or 3-0, I just want to see where we're at right now. Because we start league next Tuesday, and we need to start off on a good note," he said. "Whether it's the first game or the third game, we need to get confidence going into league and get a couple wins before Christmas."