If the ninth-grade Central Junior High Mustangs (8-5) learn one lesson before they head to the high school ranks they are going to be taught to appreciate the basketball.
Central coach Gary Hall has made sure of that.
"Value the ball is what I constantly tell them," Hall said. "This is not new, it's something we go over each and every day. It just takes them focusing on doing it."
Hall may stress ball security and maximizing every possession, but his Mustangs have learned a lot more this season, namely the importance of playing sound defense and being relaxed and patient on the hardwood.
"Our primary objective is to try and teach them as much about fundamental basketball as we possibly can," Hall said.
Ask any of Hall's Mustangs what the team's success is based upon and they will tell you - good shots, speed and defense.
Mustang guard Chris Spencer, who excels at playing the passing lanes and converting steals into breakaway layups, has taken his coach's lessons to heart. "He inspires me a lot," Spencer said of Hall.
While his players are honing their skills in preparation for the upcoming Warhawk Invitational, Hall also wants to make sure the boys who come through his program are prepared for competitive high school basketball as well.
"We try and prepare them for next year," Hall said. "I know I have to stay in the here and now, but I always have a future look for them. I want them to do well next year and it's not going to happen if they don't develop those skills right now."
The Mustangs hope they can use the Warhawk Invitational as a showcase before they move on to the high school ranks.
"Coach told us about how the Lawrence High coach and Free State coach are going to be looking for people to play when they get to 10th grade," Spencer said. "He said that if you do your best in (the Warhawk) they're definitely gonna have you playing varsity basketball."
Unfortunately for Central, the team will most likely be without the services of its best high school prospect, forward Coulter Vestal, when the postseason begins.
Vestal, who averages around 16 points per game, severely sprained his ankle and Hall said he was doubtful for the tournament.
Hall said Spencer, leading rebounder Matthew Ruder and Bo Schneider would play a prominent role in the Mustang attack from here on out.
Hall said Schneider might be the most unique player on the team because he can play him anywhere on the floor.
"He's a pretty smart kid basketball-wise," Hall said. "I have him playing all five positions; he's a utility man."
Schneider said playing competitive regular season games prepared Central for the Warhawk.
"It helps us develop our skills more," Schneider said. "It gets us mentally and physically ready."
"It gives us a lot of confidence," added Ruder of the team's regular season success. "It gets us playing good for our next games coming up."
Hall finds he has a confident team going into the Warhawk Invitational.
"They're really fired up about it," he said. "They really want to do well."
With three of its last four regular season games against in-town rivals, Central hopes to use the end of its season to prepare for the tournament.
Hall also knows the Mustangs need to utilize remaining practice time to perfect offensive sets so that half-court execution comes as naturally as a Spencer fastbreak.
If the Mustangs can optimize their offensive and defensive talents in the Warhawk Invitational, Hall thinks Central can make some noise in the tourney.
"We have a fighting chance," Hall said.