Not all seasons are created equal. Everybody knows that. Some seasons are special and others are the kind you were looking forward to the day that it was finally over.
On Monday night our high school basketball season ended at the hands of Humphrey - Lindsay Holy Family in the District Final. They are a great team that I expect to be holding the trophy at the end.
We ended the season with a record of 12-14. Not particularly special. In fact, that record could lead you to believe that it was a substandard season. It would be hard to blame somebody for thinking the 2019-2020 season was one of those seasons you couldn’t wait to forget.
After 12 games into the season we were staring at a 2-10 record. However, I would like to start from the beginning.
Last summer we ended the first day of team camp with a competition of some type. Somebody had to seal the win by making a free throw. I still remember standing under the hoop with the two other coaches as the kid sunk the free throw and his team went nuts. They were jumping on each other and cheering for the win.
That was the moment I knew that this team was different.
Fast forward to the first week of practice and we had the entire team sitting in defensive stances while having to shuffle from time to time. If you do not have experience with this drill then you really are missing out. At some point your legs will feel like butter and you are trying everything you can do to not just stand up. Because if you do, then we get to start over.
Our head coach told them, while they were in their defensive stances, that if they wanted to sing a song as well they go for it. Most kids would have either gotten pissed or would have laughed.
This team decided to sing instead. The. Entire. Team.
The song of choice, as we found out, was Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver.
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads
What would you think if you walked by the door of a gym and hearing those lyrics and as you stop to take a look, you see 20+ high school kids in a defensive stance belting out lyrics to a John Denver song.
I am not sure what I would have thought.
Another thing different about this team was actually what happened after practice. In our program, if you do not make time on a sprint during practice then you make “the list.” Those on the list get to do extra conditioning.
What we noticed a few weeks into the season was that the kids who did not make “the list” would stay and support the kids who were lucky enough to make “the list.” It might not sound like much, but to a coaching staff that is a big deal.
Back to 2-10.
The tenth loss was one of the hardest losses of the season. We felt it was a game we could have won. Instead we lost and it was not close. We had lost the last three games by an average of 23 points and things were not getting any easier.
The kids could have thrown in the towel. It would be hard to blame them if they did. They could have asked why should they even practice hard when they continue to end up on the wrong side of the win-loss column.
Finally, we picked up our third win. It felt like some of the weight had finally lifted off of our shoulders, both coaches and the kids, and we could finally breath again.
After a game, regardless of whether we win or lose, before walking into the locker room the coaches talk about what we thought of the game and what we should say to the kids. After having a plan the head coach opened the door to the locker room only to have our plan railroaded.
COUNTRY ROADS, TAKE ME HOME!
TO THE PLACE I BELONG!
WEST VIRGINIA, MOUNTAIN MAMA!
TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROADS
What. In. The. What.
Yep, that is correct. They decided to celebrate by singing a good old John Denver song. It organically became our thing and it stuck.
We proceeded to win the next four games. Then we won six of the next nine. Some games were bigger wins than others, and the volume of Take Me Home, Country Roads appeared to reflect that fact.
The loudest was likely after the sub-district championship game. We were down double-digits at half-time and the kids somehow found a way to win.
As I said above, we lost the next game and thus our season came to an end.
When things were hard we continued to remind the kids to pay attention who was going through the hard times with them. Remember who continued to run sprints even though you were 2-10. Look around and remember who decided not to take the easy way out. People outside of the team can say things, either good or bad, about us but remember those people were not in that circle with you.
Then also remember who joined you in singing Country Roads after each win. It was the same group of guys.
So a 12-14 season won’t mean much to most, but it should mean a whole lot to a select few. The next time I hear Country Roads, Take Me Home, I won’t be thinking about “West Virginia” or “Mountain Mama,” I’ll be thinking about the 2019-2020 Elmwood-Murdock Knights Boys Basketball Team.
Certainly not how we had hoped things would end. Ran into an incredible Humphrey/LHF team. To Noah, Drake, Tyler, Spencer and Ethan: Your leadership will be missed! Very proud of all your accomplishments both on and off the court. Thank you for always representing #KnightPride⚔️— E-M Knights Hoops (@EMknightsHOOPS) March 3, 2020
Some Food For Thought
NU signed 66 players in the '16, '17 and '18 classes. 39 of them won't be with the team when spring ball starts on Monday. Some graduated, some got hurt, some never made it to campus, but that's 59% of what would be your upperclassmen.— Mark Kraynak (@MarkSkers) March 5, 2020
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