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Running with the Tigers

The Smithton basketball team has changed its tempo, and changed its fortunes

By Eric Ingles

6 months 24 days 8 hours ago |1114 Views | | | Email | Print


SMITHTON — When the Smithton boys basketball team opened practice on Wednesday they ran. Then they kept running.


Trip after trip, up and down the floor, the Tigers worked on fast breaks, half the squad in gold practice jerseys pushing the ball up the court in one direction, half the squad in black pushing the ball the other way, often getting from one baseline to the other basket with three passes and no dribbles.


It’s something Smithton has been doing since the first day of practice.


“The running obviously isn’t fun but once you start to put it all down into scrimmage, it begins to make sense as to what we’re trying to get at,” said senior Tyler Gerke. “Then it becomes fun and you don’t think about running any more.”


The running in practice means the Tigers do a lot more running in games.


“We have a lot of guys that are in condition and we’re able to get up and down the floor,” said senior Dane Apsher. “We have a lot more depth than I think people realize. Whenever one guy gets tired we’re able to send another guy out there and he’ll play hard and we just keep sending the numbers out there.”


Last year’s Tigers averaged 50.76 points per game, and that included scoring 81 points in a win over La Monte and 67 and 69 in losses to Windsor and Green Ridge. The 2012-13 Tigers topped 60 points in a game four times. So far this season, 60 is the fewest points they’ve scored in a game, that coming in their loss in the semifinal of the Tipton Tournament against Macks Creek. The Tigers of 2013-14 average 73.6 points per game and reached the 80 point mark in wins over Concordia and Climax Springs. In that game against Climax Springs, the Tigers scored 29 points in the fourth quarter. Last year Cole Camp and Windsor held them to fewer points in an entire game.


“Getting up and down gives us lots of opportunities to score and I think that’s going to help us the entire year,” said senior Preston McMullen. “We’ll press teams to get them to their bench and I think that’s where we get our advantage.”


The pace the Tigers are setting is completely different from what they were trying to do a year ago. Last year the focus was on working the ball into the paint and taking care of it. This year Smithton will pull down a rebound and immediately look to run.


“We had to do something,” said coach Rich Pond. “We won five games last year. What we were doing wasn’t working. At the end of the year last year we had a couple of games, like one game in the conference tournament, we only shot the ball 29 times for the whole game and we had 34 turnovers. We need to shoot the ball more. Even if you shoot 20 percent for the game, you’re going to score more points if you shoot 60 times than 30 times.”


Helping push the tempo is the Tigers’ defense.


“We press most of the game as much as we can if we’re not in foul trouble,” Pond said.


“We’ve been able to push teams’ tempo and make them run,” Gerke said. “We don’t let them control us.”


The Tigers closed the 2012-13 season 5-20, the fifth win coming on Feb. 1 over Lincoln in the Kaysinger Conference Tournament. This season the fifth win also came against Lincoln, but it came on Dec. 10.


The sense that things were about to turn around for the Tigers came with the first two wins of the season, beating Concordia 88-84 and Pilot Grove 78-72.


“Those were wins where we would have crumbled last year in those situations,” Apsher said. “But late in the game we didn’t panic and we were able to convert late in the game and make our free throws and get a defensive stop whenever we needed to. I feel like that set the tone for what we’ve been able to do this year and gave us a positive mental state that when it comes down to the last few possessions, we know how to handle that situation now.”


The Tigers did not graduate any players from last years’ team and came into this season with a core of six seniors.


“They’re just more focused,” Pond said. “They know it’s their last chance.”


That group of Apsher, McMullen, Gerke, Damien Hendricks, Zack Smith and Beau Kratzner has played together since elementary school.


“The chemistry has built up,” McMullen said. “We’re playing as a team this year, a well-oiled machine instead of individually.”


For those seniors, the up-tempo game is a return to what they were doing in elementary school.


“Through junior high and our starting years in high school we went away from that,” McMullen said. “Going back to that, I think it’s worked a lot. With our depth this year, running up and down helps a lot.”


A big part of the success has been Smithton’s depth, with Apsher averaging a double-double and getting plenty of scoring help from his teammates. In a win Monday over Windsor, Apsher scored 28 points, with Hendricks and McMullen each chipping in 12. Last week against Lincoln it was 20 points from Apsher, 12 from Hendricks and 11 each from McMullen and Jeff Bell. Against Jamestown in the third place game of the Tipton Tournament, Apsher’s 19 points were supplemented by 11 each from McMullen and Hendricks. The depth means sometimes Pond will play 10 or 12 players in a game, and practice is designed to get them ready.


“We’ve been able to get after each other with the different numbers of players we have,” Gerke said. “It just seems like we can get more accomplished in practice compared to when we just had our starters and our JV.”


Pond said he is seeing more competitiveness in practices this year than he was last season.


“You ramp it up in practice and it carries over into games,” he said.


So far it’s carried over to a 6-1 record and a new attitude in Smithton.


“It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning ballgames than when we struggle,” Apsher said. “We’ve been more of a family than a bunch of individuals. The chemistry has been clicking and it’s translated to wins and wins translates to fun.”


For Apsher, it literally is a family since his younger brother Drew is a freshman on this year’s team.


“My freshman year I played with my older brother Dirk and so now I get the experience of being the older brother playing,” Dane said. “It’s nice because I see lots of good things from him. Occasionally he makes a freshman mistake, but he doesn’t show it most of the time. He’s got the range, he’s not afraid to shoot it, he’s got the ability to get to the basket and he sees the court really well. He’s fun to play with.”


“He pushes the older guys to be better,” Pond said. “You never want to get beat by a freshman. He’s been doing a great job. He plays AAU ball in the summer so he’s come along and he shoots the ball really well too.”


Smithton hopes to continue the winning form at Fayette at 8 p.m. today.

Reach at or 826-1000 ext. 221.

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