“You’re only as good as you practice.” It that’s not a famous quote off the lips of say John Wooden or Mike Krzyzewski or Vince Lombardi then it’s need to be a famous quote. And you can quote me on that.
But it’s been said over the years, many times in every sport in some form or fashion. And when the Skyline boys’ basketball team took to the floor last week for a practice, they were not an undefeated basketball team. They were not a team that had just won an SEC title. They were not a state-ranked team looking to make a long playoff run to the Breslin Center.
They were simply a basketball team getting ready to play their next game, which happened to be Saline. They took to the floor, well half the floor, with two objectives: Prepare for the Hornets and get better.
This season has always been about long-term goals but with short-term focus for the Eagles. And so far, that strategy has worked – to the tune of 19-0 and an SEC league title.
The Eagles walked out onto the practice floor last week – well, half the floor. And what does that mean? It means that no matter how good Skyline boys’ varsity basketball is or what their goals are, they are still just part of a booming high school athletic program. So with the boys’ freshman game tipping off at 4:30, the Skyline gym was split between the varsity and JV teams, each at opposite ends of the court.
Meanwhile, the freshman teams warmed up on the side baskets while the track team ran above everyone on the track. With music blaring from the speakers above, the Skyline gym was a crowded place to be on a Thursday afternoon.
Half court was fine for Coach Mike Lovelace and the Eagles. A day off from running is just what the doctor ordered this time of year. You want fresh legs heading into the playoffs. Anyway, the boys found plenty of things to work on in the half court.
Brandon Wade showed his leadership early and often in this practice. He yelled out “pay attention, let’s go” early on. During a sloppy two-on-one drill, Wade had his teammate try it again after the first attempt turned sloppy. He’s not looking for perfection but certainly acceptable and the first time was not acceptable to the senior guard and Mr. Basketball candidate.
One of the first drills has the starting five on defense. It was a big focus on the day and Lovelace wanted his players to “focus on the help side.” There was a lot of talk about being in the right position based on where the ball was on the floor. Spacing. Matching up. Awareness. Heads up. Really just some basic house cleaning and tightening up on the defensive end. But important stuff for a team with big aspirations.
The importance of rebounding and defense was hit home throughout the afternoon. Even their practice jerseys included a reminder: “All champions defend, rebound.”
Another impressive aspect of the Skyline practice is that the focus isn’t just on the starters or key players. All of the players on the floor are being coached, helped. A drill will stop instantly if a coach spots something that needs fixing. And all of the players are serious, focused on the drill in front of them.
Junior Ryan Wade displays his awesomeness during one of the drills. He scores three times in a row and all in different ways: a fade-away near the foul line, a rebound put-back and a drive to the hoop.
During a five-on-five drill, things really pick up when the starters go on defense. They seem energized on the defensive end and there seems to be more steals than shot attempts, taking nothing away from the second unit.
“Let’s pick it up. Clean it up,” the coach yells as the players go through the paces with the clock ticking and the freshman game looming. Coach Lovelace is always looking for more intensity and crisper play. It’s all about getting better.
When the varsity team is finally kicked off the floor, practice isn’t over. The team heads into the film room to watch some cut-up video from their recent win over Bedford. The film session is quiet as the coaches go through each clip, pointing out where players should have been defensively. The focus of this film session is the press and transition defense as more than a dozen examples are shown and analyzed.
At the end of the film meeting, Lovelace goes around the room asking each player what they’ve learned from the video session. It’s a great way to end the day, focusing as always on learning and getting better.
While Saline is brought up a few times in practice, the Hornets seem more of an afterthought even with them being the next night’s opponent. Skyline is focused on getting better, improving, cleaning it up and tightening it up. It’s about to get very real for the Skyline basketball team and they want to be as prepared as possible for the challenges ahead.
And “you’re only as good as you practice.”