Free State High’s boys basketball team plans on using the winter break to make up for lost time.
The Firebirds’ progress was delayed in the preseason when the FSHS football team made its run to the Class 6A state semifinals. While other basketball programs had nearly two weeks of practices completed entering the final days of November, Free State was just getting started as a complete unit, because key members of its rotation doubled as football standouts in the fall, thus making them late to the party.
Juniors Khadre Lane, Keith Loneker and Blake Winslow, as well as senior Kyle McFarland, all have taken on key roles for coach Chuck Law’s basketball team after helping the football team go 10-2. Senior Chris Heller and sophomores Scott Frantz and Justin Narcomey — also members of the football team — weren’t available to contribute to the basketball program, either.
Law and his players haven’t used the late football additions as an excuse for the team’s 2-3 start to the season, but there is no doubt they have some catching up to do. The coach said in the few practices the entire team had together prior to its Dec. 4 opener, it behooved all involved to cram in as many big-picture things as they could. Some of the typical skill work, nuances of sets and other subtleties took a back seat to more broad concepts.
Everything that was skipped over early is being addressed now, with the holidays bringing a break in the schedule until Jan. 4, when the Firebirds begin Sunflower League play at Olathe East.
“Once they see some of it, things will start to make more sense,” Law said of upcoming practices, “and we can shoot it more and get more skill work in practice. We’ll be a better team.”
Free State has some new offensive packages this season, but point guards Loneker and Winslow didn’t get much time for fine-tuning. The team’s chemistry and feel for playing as a unit inevitably took a hit in the season’s opening weeks, too.
Junior forward Cole Moreano said he didn’t know whether Free State would have defeated Lansing, Blue Valley North or Lawrence (the three teams that beat FSHS) if the whole team had been intact the entire preseason, because they lost to quality opponents.
But Moreano said the Firebirds might have played more cohesively and given themselves a better chance.
“We kind of split apart when we get down right now,” Moreano said, “because we’re not used to each other yet.”
Lane said the Firebirds can use their break like an offseason, with plenty of time to devote to basketball.
Coming in late, he added, might have negatively impacted the team’s rhythm, but Lane has seen positive signs, too.
“I think we’re starting to get back into basketball mode,” he said.
Junior guard Reshawn Caro said Free State will get on track and build chemistry in the coming weeks because it has a talented roster. Caro also thinks the Firebirds will be tougher because of their two-sport athletes.
“They have that football mentality,” Caro said. “They bring that physical play.”
Law agreed and said FSHS plans to use that to its advantage by doing new things defensively. The coach said his team needs to hang its hat on giving the opposition’s offense fits and creating take-aways that turn into fast-break points. That’s how FSHS held a halftime lead at Lawrence on Dec. 14, despite the Lions’ hitting seven three-pointers in the first 16 minutes.
“We know we have some limitations in certain areas,” Law said, “but we have some size and some length and athletic ability we haven’t had in a while.”
Winter-break practices, Moreano said, could determine how the rest of Free State’s season turns out.
“This is when we get to shore up the things that we’ve seen that we’ve done wrong,” Moreano said, “which is a lot, obviously, because we’re 2-3.”