Watching Laney beat the nation's #22 ranked team, Pebblebrook, made me think about the most important thing a coach can teach his team to do: play hard. It sounds simple and unexciting. But five guys who constantly work together and give maximum effort in every phase of the game will maximize whatever talent level the team has. I bet 80% of everything I ever taught the teams I coached had something to do with playing hard: sprinting back and communicating on defense, working together to keep the ball out of the paint, making the opponent take a contested jump shot on the move, blocking out and "gang rebounding" the miss, then working together as a unit to get the type of shot that we wanted. There were two reasons I spent virtually all my time teaching these things:
1) Before the team can do this better than anyone else, it is a waste of time to work on other things.
2) My teams were never able to master these practices. I've always believed no team truly can.
Buck Harris' Laney Wildcats may prove me wrong! They certainly looked like experts Saturday, holding the team everybody has said is the best in Georgia and one of the best in the country to 59 points, 25 points below the average in its five prior games. Pebblebrook features future Clemson point guard, Ty Hudson (senior); future UGA center Derek Ogbeide (senior); and one of the state's best scorers, Jared Harper (junior). The team's offensive production and ball movement has been likened to a high school version of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs by some Atlanta based high school basketball "hoop-heads."
Enter the magic of "playing hard." The Wildcats swarmed Pebblebrook all over the court after Laney's makes, misses, and turnovers. Most teams would give up far too many layups and easy scoring opportunities playing the type of defense Laney plays. There are sometimes three Laney players around the ball in the back court. But when EVERYBODY on the roster "flies around" to help each other fill holes on EVERY PLAY, exceptional things can happen. Like holding Pebblebrook to 7 third quarter points.
Many have credited Laney's success to Harris' willingness to play anybody, anytime. I have too. Hoopseen.com ranks the state's teams without regard to classification. By season's end, Laney, currently ranked 5th in the poll, will have played five of the teams (see below for dates/results of these games) that were ranked in the top ten at the beginning of the season. But I believe the success the team had against Pebblebrook has way more to do with the kind of effort the players have learned to give on every possession of every game and practice, whether during a high profile "showcase" game in November, a region battle, a post season tournament contest, or a summer league matchup. This strength travels well and can be called upon whether or not shots are falling or balls are bouncing the way Laney fans would like. Harris is smart for making "playing hard" a requirement to be a Wildcat, and for teaching his players how to do it.
Random notes from Laney's victory over Pebblebrook in the Nike Explosion at Wheeler High:
Laney is not a physically imposing group. Playing against a long, athletic zone anchored by the 6'9" Ogbeide, the guys put on a clinic for finding scoring opportunities with ball movement, pass fakes, and dribble penetration that led to open jump shots. Collin Young, Zep Jasper, Christian Keeling, and Jashawn Brooks finished the job by making those shots. This was crucial because scoring opportunities at the rim were few and far between.
Laney's "flying around" style of defense gave Pebblebrook sharpshooter Jared Harper a few deep looks in Saturday's first half. He took advantage. Harris made an adjustment at halftime that resulted in Pebblebrook scoring only 23 second half points. Buck gives credit to Zep Jasper for his defense on Harper during the second half. This was only one aspect of Jasper's almost flawless floor game Saturday. He also quarterbacked Laney's attack of the Pebblebrook zone, made timely threes, and controlled the ball and the clock during the game's final minutes while Laney had a slight cushion.
Collin Young and Jashawn Brooks made huge shots in Laney's season opening 67-64 loss to #18 (nationally) Saint Francis. Young scorched the nets Saturday again Saturday, making (by my count) 6 jump shots to punish the Pebblebrook zone. And Brooks' two mid range jump shots and two made free throws in the fourth quarter helped Laney maintain its lead late. But a fourth Wildcat (Jasper being the third), Christian Keeling, made timely jumpers Saturday, including one on the left baseline to close the third quarter and give his team its first lead of the afternoon. Keeling lives in the paint and on the free throw line offensively. His jump shot looks better all the time. Adding a consistent outside stroke to his tool kit gives Laney four (and counting) perimeter threats to go with front liners Jaylen Taylor, Jervon Walker, and Daniel Chisolm.
Buck is to be commended for his trust in EVERYBODY on the Laney roster. Two consecutive Saturdays, Laney got game changing contributions from players who are not always a part of the main rotation. Donald Henley got the "AugBball game ball" in the win over defending state champ Morgan County. In the win over Pebblebrook, Rico Merriweather and Tyqwan Wilson each made timely baskets to help keep Laney within striking distance in the first half.
Jaylen Taylor effectively neutralized the 6'9" Ogbeide in the second half. And his two handed, off-the-stride dunk in the first half has had the internet buzzing ever since Saturday!
Laney versus the state's best teams (according to Hoopseen.com):
Nov 15: Laney 64, Saint Francis 67
Nov 29: Laney 71, Morgan County 67 (OT)
Dec 6: Laney 65, Pebblebrook 59
Dec 13: Laney vs Norcross (4:30 P.M. at Greater Atlanta Chr. in Blue Collar Basketball Showcase)
Jan 3: Laney vs Jenkins (6:00 P.M. at Laney)
Jan 10: Laney vs Morgan County (7:30 P.M. at Morgan County)
***Here are posts from the past about Laney***
Dec 1, 2014
Laney Beats Morgan County at Home
Nov 24, 2014
Friday at the Will Avery Tip-Off Tournament
Nov 16, 2014
Laney falls short in season opening thriller
Nov 11, 2014
Laney Opens Season with Nationally Ranked St. Francis
July 11, 2014
Brooks, Taylor, and Walker: ABR Live Summer Send-off
Nov 25, 2013
Laney and Aquinas Open Season with a Statement
March 15, 2012
Laney Makes History
Also, AugBball's social media accounts are packed with highlights, commentary, and general celebration from Saturday's win over Pebblebrook. Here are the locations for these accounts:
Twitter.com/AugBball or search @AugBball on Twitter
Instagram.com/AugBball or search @AugBball on Instagram
Finally, SUVtv 's full broadcast of the Laney-Pebblebrook game can be seen here: