The common phrase around Captain Shreve’s boys basketball program was displayed on the front of the team’s jerseys during a Jan. 3 loss to Landry-Walker in which the Gators looked lost.
The loss dropped Shreve, who had won at least a share of the District 1-5A title each of the last three seasons, to 7-9.
But after some soul searching, a players-only meeting on Jan. 5 and a little “Shreve Faith,” Captain Shreve (11-9) won the prestigious Bossier High School Invitational this past week and appears able to be a district contender again.
That journey starts Friday with a district-opening trip to Haughton (7-8).
“I think we lost a lot of confidence (in the Jan. 3 loss),” said Shreve junior guard Toronco Loston, who was named the MVP of the Bossier tournament. “It felt like we couldn’t do it any more, and our season was fixing to be over with, but we gained our confidence back in the Bossier tournament.
“(In the team meeting), we told everybody what we needed them to do and what role they needed to play. They accepted it without getting mad. They accepted it as teammates.”
The Gators gutted through the Bossier tournament by beating reigning Class C champion by two points in overtime, a 3A semifinalist in Bossier by two points, a much improved BTW team by one point and a District 1-5A contender in Parkway by three points in the championship game.
Shreve’s first 20 games included nine teams that made the Top 28 in their respective classes, and the Gators were 4-5 in those contests.
Coach Todd Martinez, who said Shreve’s motion offense had “no motion” on Jan. 3, said senior players called the meeting and he wasn’t in attendance. His son was sick with the flu that day.
“The only thing I asked was was there any questions of me,” Martinez said of the optional meeting in which every player attended. “One or two guys had been put off (the team) because of a mistake they made, and players asked if they could get back on, and that wasn’t going to happen.
“But that put to rest some myths and basically took away some excuses. I told them that what we have in our locker room is enough to get the job done if we’re all committed and working together. We got ourselves on the same page.”
A team that sat around and watched Loston try to score by himself moved without the ball and shouldered the scoring load in the Bossier tournament.
Senior post Tyrone Earls, who had reached double figures just once in the previous four games, averaged 16 points per game including 22 against New Living Word.
“That gives me a lot of confidence because I hadn’t been playing that good,” said Earls, an all-tournament team selection. “I broke out, and I wanted to help the team.
“It helps because we had some guys that didn’t know if they were good enough to play and didn’t know how they were going to help the team. They all came out and played the way that we knew they could. It made our team better.”
Others like Ray Cole, who was named to the all-tournament team, made key 3-pointers particularly in the final two games. Shun Davenport was a physical player throughout, scoring 10 points in the championship against Parkway. Jason Houston scored an important 10 points against a defensive-minded Bossier and contributed in other ways. And players like Cameron Davis, Kameron Prelow and Julian Charles helped defend usually bigger opposing posts and rebound.
Point guard Josh Elzie oversees everything, and he said the Gators are back to playing “Shreve basketball.”
“It shows you how much you need your teammates, and you’ve got to have that focus,” Elzie said. “Our expectations would probably be just being better teammates.
“It’s not really about basketball, it’s about our character … It’s about becoming a better man. It seems like when I’m on the court, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. We’re like a family. We’ve been through hard times, and even though it hasn’t been fun, we had to work it out and get it together.”
The offense will still revolve around Loston, who uses a mixture of shooting, driving and creativity to average 16 points per game. He scored 29 points, 22 points and 21 points in the first three games, but three other Shreve scorers had at least eight points against Parkway when Loston (13 points) had an off night.
“(Loston) has always been a very good scorer, and he’s learning to play without the ball,” said Martinez, who gives Loston a green light offensively because he shoots as many as eight hours per day this summer. “Especially since that Landry-Walker game, he’s been able to get himself open without the ball to make the game easier for him where he doesn’t have to beat two guys.
“His biggest jump is on the defensive side. He’ll kill me for saying this, but he’s not where I want him to be yet, but he’s so much further along than where he was. He’s so competitive and he tries to make every play, and sometimes he runs himself out of some defensive plays.”
Loston says he’s learned to trust his teammates as this season has progressed. The Gators had to adjust without point guard Jesse McWright, who’s making a big impact as a true freshman at LSUS.
“Jesse was like a freak of nature … and we still keep in contact with each other all time,” said Loston, who added that Jesse has talked to the team this season. “Going into this year, I was just a scorer. But I know how to move without the ball now and find open cuts and teammates.
“Before (Jesse) left, he told me I had to set up and lead this team. I took his heed and led.”
Shreve has a treacherous path to a fourth straight district title. Byrd (14-4, No. No. 12 in LHSAA power rating), led by three-star guard Chad Lott, shared the district title in 2013-14 and beat Shreve for the power-point boost.
Southwood (16-4, No. 11), winners of the Doc Edwards tournament, returns the senior guard trio of Daterrius Hubbard, Terion Bell and John Parker Jr.
Parkway (15-6, No. 17) might be the most balanced team led by Keondre Wudtee and Artavious Lynn among others.
Shreve’s sitting at No. 30 in the power ratings, and teams like No. 51 Haughton (7-8) and No. 55 Airline (7-12) can still be dangerous.
“Since we’ve gone to an all Shreveport-Bossier district five or six years ago, this is the best I’ve seen it,” Martinez said. “We had some great teams like Airline from four years ago, but top to bottom, I don’t think it’s ever been as solid as it is right now.
“I think everybody will win a game in district, and on a given night, anybody can lose to anybody in the our district.”