Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Laney starts its most difficult (and exciting) week of the season

Senior Jashawn Brooks has answered the bell all season
Class 3A's #1 and #2 teams (as ranked by AJC.com), Laney and Jenkins, met Saturday.  And they put on a clinic showing how just about any high school team an almost sure fire way to be very good.  The teams pressured, helped, scrambled, dove, and rebounded relentlessly.  These are habits that all players and teams can develop, regardless of skill, size, and athletic ability.  In the end, Laney prevailed with a 60-49 home victory.  The difference in the game was what separates good from great.  Good comes through effort.  Great comes from combining effort with skill, or more exactly, play making and shot making.  Laney has been great this season.  The Wildcats will need all of their well honed habits in the days ahead as they will continue to face teams who are trying also to be great.  But more on that later.  Now I want to share what I appreciated so much about watching the two best 3A teams in our state play.

That Laney had met a team that would match its intensity level was apparent seconds into Saturday's game.  The 27-27 halftime score was the result of a clinic put on by both teams in the first 16 minutes.  No easy baskets or even relaxed moments came for either team as bodies flew all over the 94 feet of court space.  Before the season, I listed my observations about what Laney coach Buck Harris has caused his players to habitually do on the court.  That list (pressuring the ball, helping to stop dribble penetration with active hands, recovering, getting to the line of the ball, etc) caused Laney to withstand a difficult offensive half and timely shots made by Jenkins.  I was also impressed that Jenkins shares many of these same habits.  The video below is not your standard "ball is life/hoop mixtape" highlight reel.  But it is probably the most enjoyable video editing task I've done this season.  The stuff of coaches' dreams.  At least this coach's.

When opposing teams each play "the right way," the difference then becomes which team makes plays and shots.  As Laney did against large school powerhouses Norcross and Pebblebrook, the Wildcats made plenty of plays, especially in the second half, and eventually earned a relatively comfortable win.

Junior Zep Jasper is such a complete point guard.  He makes shots, which spaces the floor and keeps his man honest.  He controls the ball and helps the Wildcats win the possession game.  He beats his man off the dribble and either scores or sets teammates up for easy baskets.  And he hawks ball handlers up all over the court.

In a sense, this game was made for Christian Keeling.  I have at times jokingly called him "crash test" because he constantly sacrifices his body while attacking the basket, defending, and rebounding.  During such a fast paced game with so much open space, Keeling consistently got to the basket and the foul line.  And he consistently converted, leading all scorers with 19 points.

When Laney struggled offensively during the first half, seniors Jashawn Brooks and Jaylen Taylor may have been the most active Wildcats defensively and on the boards.  This is nothing new.  But it is to be commended.  As he did in other big games (St Francis, Pebblebrook, and Norcross), Brooks made big shots in the second half to give the Wildcats breathing room.  And Taylor probably spent more time on the floor, retrieving possessions and leading to baskets, than any other Wildcat.

Collin Young has become a personal favorite (actually one of many; what can I say, I'm a hoops fan!) this season.  I don't think I've seen an important game where he didn't make big shots.  He is very skilled offensively and is much tougher, mentally and physically, than I knew before the season began.

Saturday's #1 vs #2, Laney vs Jenkins match up was a treat.  The traits that make these teams so good are shared by Laney's next two opponents:  Butler, who is #3 in the state and set to visit Laney Friday, and Morgan County, who is #5 and set to host Laney Saturday.  Laney has proven they will give the requisite effort every play, all season, regardless of the opponent.  Butler and Morgan County is most certainly eager to prove Laney is not such a big deal.  More on those match ups soon.  What a great week for hoops!

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

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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