With senior status comes great responsibility.
At least that is how things work in the Free State High boys basketball program.
The Firebirds (2-3) boast five seniors in their top five — guards Cameron Dabney, Brett Frantz, Shawn Knighton and Tyler Self, and forward Gabe Patterson. Coach Chuck Law said it will be up to that group to determine how the rest of the FSHS season plays out.
“Every team is only as good as its seniors, and we do rely heavily on those guys,” Law said.
Both Frantz and Knighton played extensively as juniors, while Dabney and Self gave Free State good minutes off the bench last year.
Patterson, meanwhile, played for the Firebirds’ junior varsity team as a junior.
Law said those five players have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, and it has been challenging to have a team whose most experienced players aren’t necessarily accustomed to being in that role.
“The leadership side of it is something that is certainly a work in progress,” Law said. “Leaders … they’re not made.”
Knighton said the seniors feel like this is their team now, and Law has made it clear they need to step up and do their jobs. The 5-foot-9 point guard said they have been charged with guiding the younger players — such as juniors Kyle McFarland, Logan Bannister and Wilson Hack, and sophomores Blake Winslow, Joe Dineen and Reshawn Caro — and showing them what Free State basketball is about.
In the spotlight of a game, Knighton added, the seniors have all had their moments, but two have stood out.
“Cameron and Brett,” Knighton said, “have been stepping up.”
Frantz said adjusting to an increased role hasn’t always been easy, and he and the rest of the seniors know if they don’t live up to Law’s expectations, they will be held accountable.
“We need to set the tone,” Frantz said, “and if not, coach will find the people that are willing to come in and bring energy and get us going.”
The senior who has most impressed Law has been Patterson, whom the coach called a pleasant surprise.
“Gabe’s on board with what we’re trying to do,” he said of the 6-foot-3 forward.
Even though a strained hip flexor kept Patterson out of Free State’s overtime loss to Lawrence and has limited what the big man can do in practices since then, Law praised Patterson for refusing to “wallow in self pity” because he is hurt.
“He’s really made a commitment to becoming a better player,” the coach said, “and it’s a shame that he’s dinged up right now.”
Patterson likely will be out a few weeks, Law said, but should be ready in time for the McPherson Invitational, which begins Jan. 19.
The coach said Patterson is a great example of someone who paid his dues, while fellow classmates played at a level above him the past two seasons.
During the winter break, Law has been meeting one-on-one with every FSHS player. For the seniors, he has a distinct message: “They’ve got to practice better. They’ve got to bring it every day.
“It’s their team,” Law said. “There’s 15 games left in their regular season — careers for some of them.”
The Firebirds’ season resumes at 7 p.m. Tuesday, with a home game against Shawnee Mission South.