Ready to soar
With depth, LHS boys are Kaw Valley contenders
Lansing High boys basketball coach Don Allen knows exactly what he will get from his starting lineup this season.
After all, Allen had plenty of time to look at David Kern, Jeff Slater, Chris Wagner, Matt Warner and Cody Mohan last year when the five - all seniors this year - started every game for LHS. In fact, they also played almost every minute of every game.
All five will start again this year. Their roles are defined.
It's the role of the reserves that will make the biggest difference this season, Allen said. If the Lions are going to have a breakthrough year and make a serious run at the Kaw Valley League championship, they must have help from the bench.
"There's going to be minutes for other guys if they want to step up and do it," Allen said. "I'd love to be able to have a solid eight- or nine-man rotation. That's when we've been most successful, when I can play seven or eight guys."
Last year the rotation usually was limited to six guys - the five starters and then-sophomore Jeff Jackson.
The lack of depth often hurt the Lions in close games because the starters either wore out or were plagued by foul trouble. In fact, they lost six games by six or fewer points.
Defense rarely was a problem last year, but breakdowns often happened late because of tired legs. That's also when turnovers, sloppy play and fouls seemed to come back and bite the Lions.
"We played well enough to win probably another six of the games," Allen said of the 7-14 Lions. "I think we gave away six games last year. We could have easily reversed our record."
For the Lions to win close games, bench production will be crucial. It seems help might be available this year. Jackson, now a junior, will be looked to for more quality minutes and improved defense. Other players Allen said could make an impact off the bench are junior Kyle Miller, who can play guard or forward, junior guard J.T. Collins, and seniors E.J. Corinealdi, Javen Kelly and Austin Reynolds.
Wagner said he and the other starters would have welcomed the opportunity to sit and rest for a few minutes last year, but the opportunity didn't exist. He said the situation would be different this year.
"We lost a lot of games in the last couple minutes, and that's probably because we didn't have any legs," Wagner said. "We have more depth this year. We have a couple guys that can come in and fill in some minutes."
Jackson said he was ready to play a larger role for the Lions. Slimmer and stronger, Jackson said he also was more confident entering this season. Hee understands he needs to contribute solid minutes.
"I'm definitely more confident," he said. "I just think I have more motivation to run up and down the court than I did last year because I know I'm going to be playing and I know I'm a very important part of this team, so that just motivates me to work harder. This is going to be my team next year so I've got to step it up now."
The biggest question marks remain on the bench, but Allen said he was looking for his starters to up their production as well. Kern and Slater were steady double-digit scorers in the post last year, but the guard play wasn't consistent. The Lions had too many turnovers bringing the ball up the court, and they missed too many open looks from the perimeter. Only Wagner was a steady shooter from the outside.
"Truthfully, looking at his numbers, he probably didn't shoot enough for us last year," Allen said of Wagner. "The kid shot 40 percent from behind three, and he's quick enough that he can beat people off the dribble. We need to try to take advantage of that more."
Camaraderie also must improve for the Lions if they are going to be successful. As losses mounted last year, tempers flared and there were occasional signs of selfishness.
"Last year we got on each other quite a bit, so if we stay together we should do pretty good," Wagner said.
Allen said his squad had every reason to play as a united group because it could have a legitimate chance of winning the Kaw Valley League title if everyone plays together and reserves are able to contribute quality minutes.
The league's top teams last year - Bonner Springs, Immaculata, Mill Valley and Piper - all lost strong senior classes. Meanwhile, Lansing will be one of the league's most veteran squads.
"I think we can compete for the league championship," Allen said. "The way the league looks this year, everybody's got to think they can. I feel pretty good about our chances."