FT. THOMAS – Because state football championships are an expectation at Highlands, slow starts to the basketball season can also be expected.
This year, the Bluebirds are trying to buck that trend, despite gaining nine of the 13 members of the varsity hoops roster one week before the season opener. Those nine football players are committed to bringing their winning mentality to the hardwood as they adjust to the seasonal transition.
“Getting kids late from football is a challenge, but it is our philosophy at Highlands that we expect to be successful at whatever we do, athletically and academically,” said head coach Kevin Listerman. “Our kids put in a lot of time for both football and basketball. Coach Weinrich and his staff encourage the kids to play other sports. It is a mindset that success will follow hard work.”
The basketball team has had shootarounds on Sundays throughout the fall, which allowed the football players to join their basketball teammates and coaches. Still, the constant movement of basketball is a shock to the system after the short bursts of football competition.
“Football conditioning and basketball conditioning are very different,” said senior Justin Weyer, a wide receiver in the fall and guard in the winter. “It’s a process. You have to adjust from a football mentality to a basketball mentality.”
The coaching staff understands that the football players have to make both physical and mental adjustments in a short amount of time. Those players enjoyed one day off after winning a state title on December 6 before joining their basketball teammates in practice on Dec. 8. It will take a few more weeks before they are back in basketball shape, but that will not be an excuse for the Bluebirds.
“As far as conditioning goes, competitors love to compete. We try to make practice as competitive as we can to play our way into basketball shape,” said Listerman. “We also try to rotate the players particularly early in games to help them get their wind.”
The extended football season benefits the basketball team in the long run. Freshmen compete with varsity players in practice throughout the preseason. The young and still relatively fit coaching staff will also join in to add bodies in preseason scrimmages.
“I tell the freshmen, ‘Good news is you get the head coach for the first five weeks of practice; bad news is I’m going to coach you like you’re the varsity,’” said Listerman. “They quickly learn what it means to bring it to practice every day. We spend a lot of time doing skill development during that time as well.”
The Bluebirds opened the season on Dec. 12, a week later than most area teams. They lost by 10 to St. Henry, shooting just 46.7 percent from the field. Still, they were excited to get back on the court.
“It felt real nice to knock the rust off,” said Weyer.
There were plenty of positives to take away from the season opener. The team held a fourth-quarter lead, before St. Henry pulled away. Parker Harris led the way with 16 points, followed by Mitchell Cain who added 14. The student section, still buzzing from the football team’s state title one week prior, brought its A game.
“I loved the way we competed. We didn’t panic. We have to learn how to finish it off,” said Listerman. “I was also ecstatic about the atmosphere in the gym. The ‘O Zone’ was awesome. It reminded me of what it was like when I was little watching the ‘Birds play in the early 80s under Coach Shields.”
The Bluebirds hit the road for their next six games, returning home to host Covington Catholic on Jan. 2.