Most basketball coaches don't double as science teachers, but they better know chemistry if they hope to be cutting down the nets. Players working together selflessly, with kinship and a common goal is a key to winning in March.
Here's how some state championship coaches view team chemistry:
James Haire, who guided Elizabethtown's boys to the 2000 state title, thinks a coach needs a sense of humor. "Laughter can help bring a team together." But Haire thinks team chemistry ultimately comes from the players, and is based on their behavior on and off the court. Given the choice between a team with chemistry and one with talent, Haire said, "Give me the team that wants to work together over the team that has talent."
Tim Davis, who took Marion County to the 1993 boys' state title, now coaches at Campbellsville. "Team chemistry comes from the players themselves. Most of the time a coach cannot control how players feel about each other. On our '93 team, each player knew their role and accepted it; they knew who the stars were, they pulled for each other, and most important, really cared for each other."
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Jeff Morrow, who led Jeffersontown to the 2006 boys' state title, said, "Chemistry helps a team with less talent to overachieve, and a lack of chemistry sometimes causes a team with great talent to underachieve. Having had both types of teams, the ones that have had great chemistry have been much more enjoyable to coach, and in most cases those teams find a way to be successful."
Chris Renner, who guided Ballard to the 1999 boys' state title, and runner-up finishes in 2003 and '07, said, "I haven't had one team that made it to the state finals that didn't have good team chemistry. But I also haven't had one team that made it there that didn't have talent as well ... All things equal, talent wins," he said, pointing to Bud Mackey's second-half performance for Scott County against Ballard in the 2007 finals, and Chris Lofton's big game for Mason County against the Bruins in the 2003 title game.
Tim Mudd, who led Elizabethtown's girls to the 1998 championship, said coaches can create team chemistry by setting an example with a great work ethic, "treating your players with respect," communicating with them during the season and off-season, and "just letting them know that you care about them, and not just as basketball players." Given a choice between talent and chemistry, though, Mudd would "take the talent with the idea of developing the chemistry."
Chris O'Hearn, who took Mason County's boys to the 2008 title, thinks "coaches are very involved at creating team chemistry by communicating roles to their players and holding them accountable to those roles." Given a choice, O'Hearn "would choose a team with less talent and great chemistry. The other way can be very frustrating for a coach."
Jason Seamands, who coached Lexington Christian's girls to the 2007 championship, said teams that rely strictly on talent to win "get in trouble." Seamands said several factors can create team chemistry, including "players learning to like/love each other; a connection between coach and team; a sense of unselfishness from the team's best players; and an overriding purpose beyond winning ... a larger purpose that goes beyond the scoreboard."
Steve Wright, who led South Laurel's boys to the 2005 title, thinks team chemistry is the result of a "culture or environment created by coaches and players that promotes unselfishness, teamwork, genuine love and concern for each other." Wright said average talent and great chemistry will sometimes beat great talent and so-so chemistry, "but talent is hard to overcome."
Billy Hicks, who guided Scott County's boys to titles in 1998 and 2007, and a runner-up finish in 1999, said team chemistry has three ingredients: "Players gotta love coaches. Coaches gotta love players. Players gotta love players. If you've got those three things, everything else happens. If one of those three gets out of whack, it's tough to win."
■ Rick Bentley, a former Pikeville sportswriter and longtime observer of 15th Region sports, posed an interesting question: Did Belfry's girls accomplish a first last week by having to lose three tournament games before being eliminated from the post-season? The Lady Pirates lost to Phelps in the "super" 59th-60th District finals, lost to Pike Central in the "super" district consolation, and lost to Sheldon Clark in the region play-in game. That's got to be a record for getting a second (and third) chance.
■ Several teams endured a winless winter. The luckless boys' teams were Frederick Fraize (also known as Cloverport, a small school in Breckinridge County), Riverside Christian, Portland Christian and Reidland. The girls' winless teams were Frederick Fraize, Fulton City and Lloyd. Frederick Fraize has the state's longest losing streaks in hoops. Its girls have lost 84 consecutive games going back to 2005. Its boys have dropped 45 in a row over three years.
■ Hopkins Central's 6-9 senior Chuck Jones grabbed his 800th career rebound last week and is closing in on his 1,600th point. In three games against rival Madisonville and UK signee Jon Hood this season, Jones has averaged 27 points and 17 rebounds. Jones has expressed interest in walking on at UK, and attended the Cats' game against LSU last week. He is drawing interest from Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee-Martin.
■ Two former Lexington high school hoops stars earned Horizon League honors. Bryan Station's Shelvin Mack, a freshman at Butler who's averaging 12 points, four rebounds and four assists, was named to the conference's All-Newcomer Team. Lexington Catholic's Will Graham, a senior at Wright State who has 28 steals this season, was named to the Horizon League's All Defensive Team.
■ Anderson County's boys and girls swept their district basketball titles for the first time in 31 years. The Lady Bearcats rolled past Spencer County as Lindsay Fultz scored 22 points. She is the daughter of Jeff Fultz, who starred at Madison Central and went on to play on Morehead State's 1984 OVC title team. Anderson County's boys beat Shelby County behind C.J. Penny's 23 points. Penny has eclipsed 2,000 points for his career.
■ Cordia's Paige Slone has achieved a rare feat: only an eighth-grader, she already has 1,000 career points.
■ Henderson County girls' coach Jeff Haile won his 500th game when the Lady Colonels beat Webster County in the region finals. Haile is in his 23rd year at Henderson County and has an overall record of 501-146.
■ Trigg County's boys and girls swept district titles for the first time in school history. Amy Breckel coached the Lady Cats to victory just one week after giving birth to her second child. Coach Mike Wright's boys won the district for the fourth time in five years. They beat Lyon County for the title after losing to the Lyons twice in the regular season.
■ Jason Chappell is leaving South Laurel to become football coach at Campbellsville High School. Chappell was 13-19 in three years at South Laurel.
■ Zach Hibbs, a 2000 graduate of Hopkins Central, is the Storm's new football coach. He's been an assistant the last five years.
■ It will be a clash of titans when Highlands hosts Cincinnati St. Xavier in football on Sept. 25. Highlands has won 18 state titles in Kentucky. St. X was Ohio's big-school champion in 2005 and '07.
■ Two weeks after he was hired as Glasgow's football coach, Jason Esters resigned. Esters, an assistant at Warren Central, told the Glasgow Daily Times he had no idea he would be the center of controversy when he took the job. A citizen-based committee was formed to help identify the next Glasgow coach, but school officials didn't agree with that choice and went with Esters.
■ A correction: Pikeville's new football coach, Ben Howard, played for the Panthers in the late 1990s and at Georgetown College. He had been on the staff at Letcher Central, where his dad Hillard Howard is the coach.
■ Daniel Butler of Lexington Catholic, Garrett Green of Henry Clay and Clay Pergram of Paul Dunbar made the Kentucky High School Hockey League's all-state first team. The second team included Justin Bonanno and Drew Myers of Lexington Catholic, Alex Holmes and Aaron Tenfelde of Dunbar, and Ryan Hoots and Anthony Simandl of Lafayette. The 10-team state tournament is Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lexington Ice Center. Semifinals are Sunday morning. The championship game is Sunday afternoon at 3:30.
■ The 49th annual Mason-Dixon Games are at Louisville's Broadbent Arena this weekend. About 3,000 Kentucky high school and middle school students will compete. Friday's schedule begins at 4:30 p.m. with Masters and Open events, followed by middle school events. Saturday's high school schedule starts at 8 a.m. Admission is $5 each day.
■ Glasgow golfer Laura Beth Harris, who's played varsity golf since she was a fourth-grader and was part of two state championship teams, signed with the University of the Cumberlands.