If you listened to the critics, you heard that the Lawrence High boys basketball team had nothing but problems heading into Wednesday’s shocking upset of Olathe South in the opening round of sub-state.
“Junior guard KJ Pritchard shoots too much,” they said. “They don’t have a big man,” others grumbled. “Outside of their top three, the team has no talent,” also was a popular jab.
Any one of those criticisms, if true, could’ve crippled the Lions before the postseason began. And that was to say nothing about Olathe South being the No. 1 seed, having a top-five state ranking and a 17-3 record.
But none of that mattered Wednesday, and credit for that goes to the way LHS coach Mike Lewis navigated his way through a rough season along with the ability of his players to buy what he was selling.
All year, Lewis preached staying in the moment, playing for the possession in front of you and not worrying about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future, good or bad. The Lions did that to perfection on Wednesday, and because of it, they’re one victory away from qualifying for next week’s Class 6A state tournament.
“What we know about our guys is they’re a competitive bunch, they care about each other and they keep things in perspective,” Lewis said. “When people are saying negative things about you, you gotta put the blinders on. That’s a huge challenge for young kids and it’s my job to make sure they can do it.”
To aide him, Lewis turned to one of the oldest tricks in the coaching book — motivational sayings. Simple phrases, such as, ‘If you execute and play present for 32 minutes, you will win,’ ‘Any game anyone can beat anybody, and any game anyone can beat you,’ and, perhaps the best of all, ‘Why not?’, a variation on the ‘Why not us’ slogan that worked so well for the 2004 World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
“I take that to mean that we forget about all the records and we just play,” said Pritchard of the ‘Why not’ mantra. “I think it really speaks to what it means to be an underdog.”
So many close losses — two one-pointers to rival Free State and two others by four points or less — put the Lions (8-13) in that position. And for as long as their season continues, that’s what they’ll be.
Tonight, when they play fifth-seeded Leavenworth at 5:30 at Olathe North, the Lions will be expected to lose. Should they win, they most certainly will be the No. 8 seed at state, which will be played at Wichita State University’s Koch Arena. But, again, none of that matters now because Wednesday’s victory was a light-bulb moment for a team with real talent.
“An eight beating a one never happens, you know,” junior Logan Henrichs said. “I wouldn’t have believed that we’d be in this position two weeks ago, but we’ve been playing really well lately and we’re really playing with a lot of confidence.”
They’re also having fun. Asked where the win against Olathe South ranked on his all-time list, junior forward Anthony Buffalomeat needed no time to think.
“It’s gotta be one of the best basketball games of my life so far,” Buffalomeat said. “And, who knows, Friday could be one, too.”