Walker establishes pesky defensive identity
Tonganoxie High boys basketball players spent the last three weeks of practice accumulating floor burns all over their bodies.
THS coach David Walker brought back a new drill to practice this year, where he starts two players at half court. He rolls the ball down the floor and both players dive on the floor -- hence the floor burns -- for possession.
"These guys aren't afraid to hit the floor," Walker said. "They aren't afraid to get after loose balls and they're not afraid to take charges. We may not be the prettiest shooting team and we may not look like the Lakers back in the '80s, but we'll look a lot like the Celtics. We're going to hit the floor a lot and get bruises."
With the first game of the season set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Basehor-Linwood, the Chieftains know they won't be bigger and taller than the Bobcats. They're hoping to be faster and scrappier, though.
"We've conveyed to the players that our methodology this year is going to be outwork our opponents every opportunity we're given," Walker said. "We're going to have to scrap fight, shove, push -- whatever it takes."
Tonganoxie will only return one starter -- senior Gabe Belobrajdic -- from last season's 10-11 team that lost to Baldwin in the sub-state playoffs.
However, the Chieftains have five other seniors this year: Isiah Sawyer, Keith Wentz-Hall, Tyson Letourneau, Logan Forbis and Josh Nowasell.
Belobrajdic and junior Austin Smith will likely be starting posts for THS, but the guard spots all are up for grabs. Likely candidates include the aforementioned seniors and sophomores John Emery and Keaton Schaffer.
Offensively, it's evident the Chieftains first option will be Belobrajdic, a first-team Kaw Valley League player last season.
"We do have an expectation for him in terms of scoring, but we have an even bigger expectation for him to understand that people are going to be keying on him," Walker said. "He has to patient and get his teammates involved to take some pressure off of himself."
Belobrajdic knows defenses will look to zero in on him.
"Sometimes, I might get that, 'Oh, you're a ball-hog' or whatever, but I'm just looking to get the win," Belobrajdic said. "I'm not going to be a ball-hog if five people are on me. I'm not going to take it up myself. But If I'm open, I'm going to take the shot. I'm going to have to lead this year and I'm ready for that."
When asked to describe this year's team in one word, Belobrajdic said quick.
"I can tell I've gotten quicker," Belobrajdic said. "We want to make defenses wear down. We like to set the tone."
Defensively, expect pressure THS defense on the perimeter to be routine.
"We can't try to keep asking our post people to keep guarding those 6-8, 6-9 players and not have help," Walker said. "We're going to have to play defense very well and box out. We can't get very far without taking care of the ball and having zero mistakes the majority of the time."
So is a state run part of the equation?
"Obviously, we're going to strive for it," Belobrajdic said. "I don't think it's completely out of the question. Every basketball team puts their shorts on the same way. We obviously have a chance."