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KHS Basketball Teams Have Statement Games This Week
Knightstown’s boys and girls varsity basketball teams have some pretty big forks in the road to encounter in the coming days. Depending on which part of the fork the teams take, the second half of the season could end up being surprisingly successful for both squads. Knightstown basketball coaches John Howell and Dawn Basicker have both already exceeded expectations at this stage of the season.
After losing their first two, the girls went on a five-game winning streak before running into a couple of roadblocks against state-ranked Lapel and Greenfield-Central. Throw out the game against the Lady Cougars and Basicker’s Lady Panthers have been impressive and improving.
The ingredients are there for a successful run in the second half of the year. The girls have a tough home game Thursday against Triton Central, a Class 2A state power. They then travel to winless Wes-Del, and return home Tuesday against rival Tri High. If the Lady Panthers can win two of those three they would finish the first half of the season 7-5, with eight games remaining. There’s just one senior on the roster, Diana Trautmann, and Basicker starts a freshman point guard along with underclassmen at every other position.
The girls’ losses have been to Hagerstown (6-1), Winchester (7-2), Lapel (8-0) and Greenfield-Central (5-3). Those teams have a cumulative record of 26-6. On the horizon are Triton Central (5-1) and Tri (5-2).
After the game against Tri, just four of the remaining opponents on the Panther schedule have a winning record at this stage of the season. The schedule becomes a little less aggressive and it’s more than safe to assume the Lady Panthers are going to continue to get better.
Meanwhile, Howell took over a boys basketball program one year after the Panthers set an all-time school record for losses in one season. The Panthers went 1-21, getting their only win against a team that should never have been on the Knightstown schedule. They beat Seton Catholic by 72 points in that school’s first year of varsity competition. Seton was actually fielding a junior varsity team.
Howell has introduced the team to a significantly different style of play on both sides of the ball. Occasionally, it looks like the Panthers get what their new coach is trying to tell them. At other times, they appear to slip back into the bad habits of last season. But like the girls, the boys have shown they are capable of playing some pretty good basketball. They beat Tri by 21 points, and lost at Union County on a last-second shot. They also lost an overtime contest at Wes-Del.
Then the basketball team traveled to Wapahani and they were never in the game. The team lost that basketball game by seven touchdowns. When they came back home, Howell shook up the starting lineup and it more than appeared some players were being sent a message about the definition of “team” sports.
After blowing another late-game lead, the Panthers rallied to force overtime against Cambridge City “don’t call me Cambridge City” Lincoln. I don’t know why, but they really don’t like being called Cambridge City over there.
The Panthers dominated in the overtime. The next night, the Panthers rallied from 15 points down to pull to within five late against an outstanding Lapel team, eventually losing by just nine points.
Now 2-4 on the season, Knightstown could easily be 4-2. There is great hope for this team and Panther fans should be optimistic. This season will, no doubt, be a journey for both the boys and girls.
While Howell may be young, his methods are old school. He stresses aggressive man-to-man defense and a team approach. Every player has the green light to take a shot, if that is a high percentage attempt.
The Panthers run an entertaining motion offense that spreads the ball around and is designed for the high-percentage opportunity. It’s a game plan that will work when the Panthers buy into it and implement the strategy.
So far, the Panther boys have been finicky shoppers. Sometimes they buy, sometimes they don’t.
Knightstown fans should stay patient and remember that the basketball team is going through as dramatic a coaching change as the football team did a couple of years ago. Like gridiron coach Bob Prescott, Howell is a teacher of fundamentals and team play. The results are not going to be instant, but they will come.
After the big loss at Wapahani, Howell didn’t want to talk to me about upcoming opponents. He looked at the tape from the Union County game and saw his team collapse. He watched them fall down pretty hard again Saturday at Wapahani. He didn’t like what he saw. Howell wondered where his team’s fighting spirit was hiding.
“Right now we’ve got to take care of ourselves before we worry about other teams,” Howell said. “We’ve settled into a mode where everyone has accepted who is playing and no one is competing for spots. I really didn’t think that would happen with this group.”
So last weekend, Howell forced the competition among his own players. He sent four new starters onto the court and shook things up a little.
It worked. Knightstown received a hustling effort from the backups who started, and got monster games out of the regular starters when they came in. The Panthers had spells where they resembled a pretty good overall team. They were still inconsistent, but that’s life with a very young team.
By gaining a weekend split, the Panther boys have already doubled last year’s win mark. But they should have also gained considerable confidence and hopefully learned that this “extreme team” approach that Howell is trying to teach is their best shot at improving every week.
Eastern Hancock, Triton Central (5-0) and then the holiday tournament at Franklin County are on the agenda. The next five games will probably tell the coach which players will emerge as leaders and who he’ll put on the floor for the stretch run of the second half of the season. With this team, it all comes down to executing the coach’s game plan. When they do, they are very competitive and extremely entertaining for Panther fans.
On the other side, Basicker entered the season familiar enough with her girls to know what rotation she wants. But she also knew coming in that the Lady Panther learning curve would be a wide looper with freshman Megan Hiner at the point and nine very talented underclassmen on the roster.
“Megan just needs to learn that the things she could do as an eighth grader she can’t do against varsity competition,” Basicker said. “All of our girls need to learn that we have to play to our strengths and not let the other team dictate the game. We know the scouting report on us. Teams try to take us out of our game plan, and if they succeed, we aren’t going to beat them in their game.”
So here comes the proverbial fork in the road for both the boys and girls. If you haven’t seen either or both teams yet, there’s never been a better time to do it. The girls are at home Thursday and Saturday (11 a.m.), and are a short drive away at Tri Tuesday night. The boys are just a few miles away at Eastern Hancock Friday, and the team plays unbeaten Triton Central at home Saturday.
Each week those guys and girls are going to become more fun to watch, because both teams have continued to get better. And hopefully, they have already played and put behind them the one horrible outing that many times causes an entire team to serve notice to one another and pull together to make it all happen. This could be the weekend those youngsters grow up. When that happens, this basketball season is going to be much more fun than anyone anticipated for both the girls and boys programs.
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