Sunday, January 18, 2015

Laney is halfway through another mini obstacle course

Jaylen Taylor's leadership has been key in Laney's run
When friends have told me no area team can possibly beat Laney, I have disagreed.  I have told them the players at Butler, Washington County, Josey, Glenn Hills, and Westside have played with and against Laney's guys their entire lives.  These guys want more than anything shut up the mouths of we who comment on local hoops action.  Also arguing for an eventual Wildcat slip is the amazingly difficult schedule coach Buck Harris has constructed.  I extensively covered Laney's 8 day stretch in which they toppled class 3A's #2 (Jenkins), #3 (Butler), and #5 (Morgan County) teams.  That was last week.  Upon conclusion, this week's obstacle course will have included 4 games in 5 days against probable state tournament teams:  Washington County (away), Josey (home), Buford (in Atlanta) and Glenn Hills (home).

So far, so good.  After experiencing a brief scare at Washington County Friday and playing in front of the best high school basketball crowd I've probably ever seen in Saturday's famed Laney-Josey matchup, the Wildcats are 2-0 halfway through their trying stretch.

Laney's 17 game wining streak, and its general dominance, can never be attributed to only one player, or even two or three.  But in January, a time the team has played mostly in town, giving me the chance to see the action up close rather than viewing through the web, I've found myself repeatedly saying Christian Keeling's play is making a huge impact.  Before the new year Keeling certainly impacted games with his attacking style, finishing drives and getting to the foul line.  Since the turn of the calendar he has added a dimension:  a consistent perimeter jump shot.  This is no surprise because Christian's form has always been solid.  The magic of game repetitions has worked in his favor and he is now scoring from all spots and angles.

But while I am not surprised with Keeling's improving outside shooting, I truly have been by his sudden burst of high flying finishes.  Christian is no first time dunker.  But lately he has dunked in various ways (two-handed tip dunk off two feet versus Butler; in stride on the break after receiving a pass versus Morgan County, and another off the stride and off the pass dunk with two hands Friday at Washington County).

Little did I know these were teasers of what keeling would do Saturday to send the packed-to-absolute-capacity crowd at Laney into hysterics.  For there is a difference between finger tip dunking in practice, and on breakaway plays during meaningless moments of games, and the types of plays described above.  Then there is what he did in Saturday's game against Josey!  In traffic and through contact, Christian rose above the crowd and finished with two "body-to-body" one handed dunks off the stride.  No basketball plays electrify a crowd like these.  And no crowd is more ready to be electrified than Saturday's.  This sequence certainly has my vote for the most exciting sequence at this point in the 2014-15 season.

As noted, Laney's success cannot possibly be attributed to one player.  Another crucial factor in the team's run has been junior Zep Jasper's play.  He has consistently made life difficult for opponents' best scorers.  There is not a "tougher cover" than Josey's Darius Williams.  I haven't seen anybody force Williams into as many difficult situations as Jasper (and Harris' overall defensive scheme) did Saturday.  And Zep absolutely controls games offensively.  Through his leadership, shooters like Jashawn Brooks and Collin Young get clean looks, and finishers like Jaylen Taylor and Jervon Walker are set up properly.  When Jasper looks to score, he does so efficiently.  He has no trouble blowing by quick guards and finishing either at the rim or with soft floaters over taller help defenders.  And Saturday he made a "rhythm dribble three" as his defender gave him space to keep him out of the paint.  This was exciting to see.  It's the only thing I haven't seen from Jasper this season.  (Note there is a difference between this kind of shot and the catch-and-shoot three created by others that Zep has consistently made all season.)

There are too many Laney contributors to describe!  Staying with juniors, I'll move to Collin Young, who has made big shots all season.  In Friday's game, Young was instrumental in keeping his team close, and eventually helping it pull away from Washington County.  He continued to make a difference Saturday versus Josey.  During both games, Collin did far more than make open jump shots.  He created opportunities off the dribble, scoring in the mid range and in the paint.  And like all intelligent scorers, he crashed the offensive glass for additional chances.

And the above accounts tell only part of this weekend's Laney story.  The team's battalion of senior leaders is so consistent.  Brooks continues to make shots and lead in so many important ways.  Jaylen Taylor always impacts games in the paint, and Saturday he showed more of his perimeter skills.  And Jervon Walker, Tyqwan Wilson, Tommy Smith, and Nick Myers are all players that just about any coach of a state tournament team would be thrilled to have in his starting lineup.

There are so many good reasons Laney has had such a great season.  And the results have been perfect during the first half of a particularly difficult four game in five day stretch.  I wouldn't bet against the Wildcats Monday against Buford in Atlanta or Tuesday back at home.

***Here are some posts from the past about Laney***

January 11, 2015
Laney defeats Butler to in "instant classic" to stay undefeated in region play

January 7, 2015
Region Race 2015 (episode 2)... plus a look at "Class 3A Week"

January 6, 2015
Laney starts its most difficult (and exciting) week of the season

Dec 25, 2014
The full gyms at Laney's games remind me of something

Dec 16, 2014
Laney hustles its way to another huge win

Dec 9, 2014
Laney's Secret Sauce:  Playing Harder (Easier said than done)

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

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