If Lawrence High’s boys basketball team wants to make this season memorable, its winter-break practices could prove to be a huge part of that.
During the three-week hiatus between games, the primary message from coach Mike Lewis to his players is that constant improvement is a must.
Sure, the Lions are off to a 4-1 start — their only loss came in the Blue Valley Shootout title game to Olathe Northwest, now ranked No. 2 in Class 6A — but Lewis said at the high school level, coaches have to keep riding players about all the small details that go into winning basketball games.
“Once you start getting comfortable, then it’s over,” Lewis said. “You have to be able to be critical of yourself and constantly critique yourself.”
Like any other team team during the break, the LHS coach said his players know there are a number of areas where there is ample room for improvement.
“Nobody’s going into January thinking they’re the best that they can be,” Lewis said.
His approach has been to have a different focus each day at practice in a number of different categories and hopefully build momentum going into the resumption of the schedule.
Lawrence senior guard KJ Pritchard, who leads the Lions with 13.8 points a game, said there are general areas where LHS needs improvement.
“Just little things,” he said, “like hustling and rebounding.”
But, he added, there are very specific things that could use a change for the better, too. Pritchard pointed to Lawrence’s three-point accuracy as a fixable problem. Through five games, the Lions have hit 21 three-pointers, but they have taken 80 shots from long range — good enough for just 26 percent. Junior point guard Shane Willoughby, who has hit four of his 11 three-point tries, has hit a team-best 36 percent.
Another area that Lewis has addressed in practice is the team’s free-throw shooting. So far this season, the Lions have made 58 of their 101 attempts at the foul line — just 57 percent. Lewis said he wants LHS to eventually get that number up to at least 70 percent. At 71 percent, Pritchard leads all Lions who have taken at least 10 free throws.
The team’s overall field-goal percentage sits at 43 percent, with sophomore center Bryce Montes de Oca (8.8 points, 6.4 rebounds) leading the way with a 55-percent mark. Junior guard Jake Mosiman (6.8 points) is second, at 48 percent.
As far as Lewis is concerned, shooting percentages will fluctuate during the season, so he likes to look at other defensive stats — like deflections or who is taking a charge — when he scans a stat sheet.
“If you can really focus in defensively and do the little things and buy into that as a team,” he said, “that will save you on those games when you’re not shooting so well.”
LHS coaches track deflections and charges. Currently Mosiman’s eight deflections lead the team, while senior guard Anthony Buffalomeat (9.2 points, 6.8 boards) is close behind with seven. Both Pritchard and senior guard Logan Henrichs (10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists) have drawn a charge for the Lions.
The theme of improving, senior guard Troy Willoughby said, has caught on with LHS during its break between games.
“If we can tighten up the little things and we put it all together,” he said, “we have a chance to make a run for the state title.”
Pritchard said Lawrence’s problems areas can be addressed, and he is excited to get back on the floor.
“We’re playing really well as a team, and that’s really all you can ask for,” he said.
As for Lewis, he is interested to see how his team responds if things get tough, which could be the case as the Lions return to action with back-to-back home games on Friday (Olathe Northwest) and Saturday (Kansas City, Mo., Rockhurst).
“We have a lot of pieces on this team that can really come together and really do some special things in January and February,” the coach said.