Lions forced to grow during tough year
Lansing High boys' basketball coach Don Allen didn't have any misconceptions entering the 2004-2005 basketball season.
He knew his squad was a confident bunch that was young and largely inexperienced. He was sure the confidence would keep the Lions in some games, but he was certain the youth and experience factors would show their heads, too.
"They had some success last year and they had a lot of confidence coming in," Allen said, "But those seniors (last year) really helped them. Those seniors shielded them from a lot of things and did a pretty good job of insulating them."
Without any seniors on this year's roster, the leadership responsibilities fell to the juniors. That task was tough, however, because there were numerous growing pains to overcome.
Juniors Jeff Slater and David Kern were the only returning starters from the 2003-2004 team that went 12-9. Juniors Cody Mohan, Chris Wagner and Matt Warner all had played some varsity minutes but lacked extensive court time. Beyond that, varsity experience was nonexistent on the LHS roster.
"There's a big difference between spotting four or five minutes and coming in and going for 32 minutes. I think that they got their eyes open as to how much effort it takes and just how hard you have to play every night to be competitive against anybody."
Those are the things Allen hopes his players take the most from their 7-14 season: knowledge and renewed competitive swagger.
The Lions lost six of their first eight games as they attempted to run up-tempo too much. They played sloppy at times, which wasn't a total surprise considering they were being asked to shorten their learning curve quite a bit.
By the 15th game of the season - the double-overtime loss to Immaculata - the Lions finally appeared to find their rhythm and they played relatively flawless basketball during their final seven games. The competition level rose substantially during that stretch, however, and LHS went 2-5 during that span.
Despite the numerous losses, there is reason to believe the Lions can close the gap quickly next year. Of the 14 defeats, six were by six or fewer points, meaning Lansing was very close to being comfortably above the .500 mark this year with 13 victories.
"We've gotta finish games," Warner said. "I don't know how many close games we lost, but it was too many. But we learned a lot this year and it's going to feel good because next year we're going to have some subs, so it will nice to not have to play the whole game."
Allen praised his players' work ethic throughout the season and complimented their ability to rally during the final weeks of the season and play better basketball. That, he said, should bode well for next year when the Lions will be a senior-heavy team with plenty of experience, including sophomore Jeff Jackson, returning.
"It will be interesting next year with a load full of seniors," Allen said. "Hopefully over the course of the offseason we're going to work on things that we need to do to help ourselves.
They worked hard this year, and coach (Dan) Wessel and I are extremely proud of the effort. When you show up on varsity night on Fridays, you've got to be laced up and ready to go for four quarters. Hopefully that will be the biggest thing they take away from this year. You don't play the game on paper. You've got to show up and play."