As much as anything, the area boys prep basketball season has been marked by the absence of a discernible superstar: no Dorian Greens or Brady Morningstars — former area standouts with the ability to affect the outcome of a game single-handedly.
Instead, the past few months have been about collective effort, and as Lawrence High and Free State prepare for this week’s Class 6A sub-state tournament, their focus has been figuring out a way to get maximum contributions from a number of different sources.
“We don’t have any world-beating players that are going to go out and get 18, 20 points on any given night,” said Free State coach Chuck Law, whose fifth-seeded Firebirds will travel to No. 4 Shawnee Mission West for a 7 p.m. matchup today. “We’ve got to do it by committee.”
That’ll be the primary theme this week for both schools, each of which will need to pull off an upset or two in order to advance to next week’s Class 6A state tournament.
A second theme will be bouncing back from early-season losses to their opening-round opponents.
In a 47-34 loss to Shawnee Mission West last month, the Firebirds (9-11) didn’t score their first field goal until the 6:41 mark in the second quarter and finished the first half with just 10 points total, struggling to take the ball to the basket and get decent shots inside the three-point line.
Lawrence High will be looking to bounce back, as well, when the seventh-seeded Lions travel to take on No. 2 seed Shawnee Mission Northwest at 7.
LHS dropped a 46-42 road contest to SM Northwest back in December, and while they do possess a player capable of occasionally taking over offensively — senior Marcus Ray scored 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Friday’s loss to Free State despite playing a portion of the game hobbled with what looked to be a foot or ankle injury — the Lions (4-16) have played their best basketball this season when a handful of players have stepped up simultaneously.
“On occasion, we’ve had some guys step up and have some pretty big games along with Marcus,” said LHS coach Mike Lewis. “But instead of having a real big game, we need some guys to step up and have real solid games — a few guys score six or eight points and rebound and not turn the ball over. If everybody contributes, that’s when we play our best. We can’t just watch Marcus and hope that he does it all.”
Law said Wednesday that his team will have to bring a heightened sense of intensity into tonight’s game, and while the monotony of a regular season is bound to bring about some occasionally lackadaisical nights, he seemed confident that the single-elimination urgency of the postseason will provide all the motivation his team needs to be ready come tip-off.
“Sometimes on a Tuesday night in (league play), it’s hard to get kids inspired to play,” Law said. “But this is truly it. It’s one and done now. If you don’t come out ready to play now, there’s obviously something wrong with the wiring.”