The role players on Lawrence High’s boys basketball team don’t take it personally.
They know when opposing coaches and players huddle up and game-plan before facing the Lions, the two names that will come up first, last and, most often, in between are Anthony Bonner and Justin Roberts.
Being perceived as afterthoughts is just fine with LHS senior guards Connor Henrichs and Anthony Riley, junior guards Ben Rajewski and John Barbee, and sophomore forwards Price Morgan and Fred Brou. While opponents are worried about scheming some way to stop the one-two punch of junior guard Bonner and sophomore point Roberts, Lawrence’s role players will be waiting for their moment to pounce.
“They don’t really know much about us,” backup LHS guard Riley said, smiling. “We just come in and do what we do best.”
Their role on offense is to feast when the defense collapses, scrambling to cut off Roberts or Bonner. Morgan and Brou can finish inside and Henrichs, Barbee, Riley and Rajewski can spot up and wait for open jumpers.
Barbee, a starter, said they have embraced their supporting roles and appreciate the ease with which they are able to operate when the team’s top guns are creating havoc. That allows the rest of the Lions to play pressure-free basketball.
“When a team focuses on them, that gives us opportunities to score, and if they start pressuring us we’ll give the ball back to them,” Barbee said. “They’re playmakers, so they can create whenever they want to.”
Coach Mike Lewis likes the offensive flow Lawrence (3-1, ranked No. 6 in Class 6A) has established. The ball doesn’t stick in the hands of one of the team’s lead guards. Fast breaks and half-court sets have a flow that keeps everyone involved.
“I hope that continues to happen and I really feel like that is who we are,” Lewis said, “partly because we know these guys from the last couple years. This isn’t brand new to us.”
All eight players in the LHS rotation have developed a trust for one another, and that starts with the leaders. Riley said Bonner and Roberts are team-first guys, and they support every guy on the roster in every situation.
“If a three-point shooter doesn’t knock down a shot and they get down on themselves,” Riley shared, “(Roberts and Bonner) just pick them up immediately. ‘It’s just one shot. It’s not the end of the world.’ They just keep pushing you to try harder.”
Plus, Barbee said the team’s go-to players on the floor show leadership off the court, too. They make sure teammates are arriving to class on time and getting homework done. They help foster the team’s chemistry by keeping things loose, as well. The ninth or tenth player on the depth chart can dish out a joke at the expense of one of the Lions’ starters.
“Everyone just gets on each other for any reason at all,” Barbee said. “It’s fun to have that kind of connection with each other.”
The Lions hope to create even more merriment at The Jungle Friday night, when they play host to rival Free State (3-1, No. 5 in 6A). Riley said he and the other players that opposing teams don’t talk about all have a part to play: “Come in and hit open shots.”
Between intangibles, execution and players understanding their time to shine could come at any moment, Lewis is pleased with his team’s progress.
“I would love to have a night where everybody scores 10 points, and we score 80 and we move out with the win,” the coach said. “I hope we can continue on that path.”