Lawrence High’s boys basketball team hasn’t played in 10 days, but when the Lions return to the court tonight, they will do so as a ranked team for the first time this season.
Class 6A’s freshly anointed No. 5 program, Lawrence will play host to Leavenworth (No. 8, 5A) at 7.
The past six Kansas Basketball Coaches Association rankings released this season hadn’t listed Lawrence in the top 10. Some of its Sunflower League competition, such as Olathe East, Olathe South, Shawnee Mission South, Shawnee Mission East and Leavenworth, have garnered recognition in the rankings since the preseason. The Lions’ 8-4 record, second-place finish at the Topeka Invitational Tournament and two January victories over O-South finally made coaches outside of the city take notice.
During the final four weeks of the regular season, LHS will have plenty of opportunities to prove it is not only one of the top teams in the league, but also the state. Beginning today, the Lions play four of their next six games against other top-10 teams. And no one will hear coach Mike Lewis complaining about the fact Leavenworth, Shawnee Mission East (No. 2, 6A), Shawnee Mission South (No. 1, 5A) and Olathe East (No. 4, 6A) all have to play at Lawrence High.
“We’ve been playing pretty good at home, so I hope we can keep having a good vibe at home,” Lewis said of his team’s 2-0 mark in The Jungle. “Those teams that happen to be toward the top. It worked out pretty nicely that this year they happen to be coming to our place. Whether we’re playing them here or on the road, it’s gonna be a tough game.”
Lewis and his staff like the structure of the team, with its rotation of seniors Jake Mosiman, Austin Abbott, Drake Hofer and Sterling Fuller, juniors Connor Henrichs and Jacob Seratte, sophomores Anthony Bonner and John Barbee and freshman Justin Roberts. With eight games left in the regular season, Lewis said the players need to realize they haven’t accomplished anything yet.
“The top of the mountain is the state tournament. As long as they continue to buy into that, which they’re doing a nice job of, each day at practice or each game, as long as we’re seeing progress and doing a lot of the little things that we’ve been doing well and remain focused as a group, I think we’ll have a good eight-game stretch here,” the coach said. “If we start getting distracted and we start getting comfortable and we start looking ahead too far, then it becomes a problem.”
The Lions consider the next four weeks the beginning of the second half of their season, and Lewis plans to remind them each week and each game will be meaningful and tough.
“That helps the guys not get too distracted by rankings and sub-state seedings,” he said, “and they’re just able to focus in and be a basketball player.”
Rejuvenated Firebirds return to court
The 10-day break in Free State’s boys basketball schedule became far more enjoyable when the Firebirds snapped a seven-game losing streak with back-to-back victories at the McPherson Invitational on Jan. 18 and 19.
Coach Chuck Law admitted the team’s first victory in six weeks, 42-40 against Hutchinson, was “not the prettiest thing in the world,” but a come-from-behind victory over Manhattan the following day reinvigorated the Firebirds (4-7).
“There was certainly more energy in the gym (last week at practices) than there would have been otherwise, if we drop those two games out there,” Law said. “We feel like we’ve got something to build on. It obviously doesn’t guarantee success, but getting a couple of wins picks up your energy level, and guys know we’ve been in a lot of games. We just haven’t been able to close them out.”
During Free State’s seven-game skid, it lost four times by six points or less. It was a troublesome stretch for the team’s rotation players: seniors Cody Scott, Kyle McFarland and Logan Bannister; juniors Khadre Lane, Cole Moreano, Reshawn Caro, Blake Winslow, Keith Loneker and Innocent Anavberokhai; and sophomore Weston Hack. Law said the recent string of practices allowed the coaching staff to put in new defensive and offensive sets
“We’ve been pretty good defensively all year — not great, but pretty good,” the coach said. “Our problems have been inefficient offense or just not putting the basketball in the hoop at times.”
The Firebirds got away from those struggles in the second half against Manhattan and think they’re becoming more like the team they hoped to be this year headed into a 7 p.m. home game today against Shawnee Mission West (6-5).
Eight of Free State’s final nine regular-season games will be against Sunflower League opponents. Law said Shawnee Mission South (12-0) and Shawnee Mission East (11-1) are the league’s clear favorites.
“I think everybody else is pretty close,” Law said. “All you have to do is look at the closeness of the games that have been played, if you’re not talking about Shawnee Mission South beating everybody by upper-teens or 20s.”
Though FSHS already has lost to two of the league’s top three team, SMS and Olathe East (9-3), Law said the next four weeks won’t be easy. The Firebirds, he added, need to win their final five home games (especially after losing at home Jan. 11 to Olathe Northwest) and get at least one road victory.
“We’ve just got to play well enough, make enough baskets and execute down the stretch to win,” Law said.