Free State at LHS
When: Girls 5:30 tonight, boys 7:30 tonightWhere: Lawrence High gymGirls records: Free State 13-6, LHS 13-6Boys records: Free State 9-10, LHS 13-6
Kyle Schreiner grew up practicing his jump shot in the "Jungle," also known as the Lawrence High gym. Lawrence High basketball started as a Schreiner family tradition. Schreiner's father, Jack, coached the Lions to a 1995 Kansas Class 6A state championship.
Twelve years later, Schreiner isn't wearing red anymore. The Free State senior guard's feelings toward the Jungle haven't changed, though.
"I think it's the best place to play in Kansas," Schreiner said. "The fans are right over you, and the rims are nice and soft. It's so loud."
The atmosphere of playing at LHS is well known across the state. Free State coach Chuck Law said oral communication with his team wouldn't be possible for tonight's game at 7:30. Therefore, you'll likely notice Free State players signaling plays instead of shouting them out.
"I love coming to home games," Lawrence High senior forward Nathan Padia said. "We have the best fans in the Sunflower League, I'd say. We have one of the best gyms. It's going to be a different atmosphere around here (today)."
Padia spoiled a Firebirds victory in their home gym in the first meeting of the season on Dec. 21. His free throw with 1.1 seconds left gave the Lions a 43-42 victory. With such pressure surrounding the free throw, Padia said he knew how the game would end before he even attempted the shot.
"Oh, there weren't any doubts," Padia said. "I knew I hadn't had that good of a game, but when it came down to the last shot, I knew I was going to hit it."
After Padia's heroics, Free State (9-10) lost six more games by a combined 14 points. The Firebirds are 6-7 since Dec. 21.
"They're a good basketball team, and their record does not indicate what their team is like," Lawrence coach Chris Davis said. "We have a tremendous amount of respect for them."
Free State will not play host to a Class 6A sub-state game since it won't finish in the top four of its division. Depending on tonight's outcome, the Firebirds likely will finish fifth or sixth.
Lawrence High (13-6) is guaranteed a home game for sub-state and will likely finish first, second or third in its division. The Lions have gone 9-4 since the Free State game, including a six-game winning streak. Unfortunately for LHS, the streak ended Tuesday night on the road against a 2-18 Shawnee Mission North team.
"After that loss, coach said two words: Oral Roberts," Padia said. "He asked us what that meant, and we told him that KU should have blown out Oral Roberts. But it didn't ruin their season. It was just lack of focus because we thought we were going to come in there and blow them out since they won one game."
One thing's almost certain for tonight: both teams will come out extremely focused.
"It's a different game in the sense that both teams play harder in this game than they do against anybody else, and the crowd is more energized in this game than any other game," Law said. "We play in front of a packed house two times a year - it's here and it's there."
Schreiner said he welcomed the brutal atmosphere of playing on the road in the Jungle. He typically prepares for it by getting focused the night before, then playing loose at game time. Law said he occasionally had trouble hearing the person next to him when coaching on the sidelines. But like Schreiner, he emphasized the importance of the Firebirds playing under control.
"The last time I checked, the court was still rectangular, the rims were still 10 feet high, there's a jump-circle at half court, and it's played five-on-five," Law said. "The critical thing is to block all of that out and focus on what's going on in that rectangular-sized basketball court."
As for Davis, he said the magnitude of the game essentially spoke for itself.
"We really don't need to put anything else on it," Davis said. "I'd like to have the momentum for sub-state, but it's a Lawrence High-Free State game. They don't get much better than that."