In just his second year as head coach of his alma mater, Providence coach Andrew Grantz has seen his team grow up before his very eyes.
In his first season, the Pioneers started 2-5, capped by a 23-point thumping at the hands of Silver Creek. That year, Providence finished 9-12, its first losing season since 2001.
The Pioneers then got to work in the off-season.
Last season, Grantz recalls asking Griffin Libs, then a junior, to use his left hand during practice. “I swear — I thought he was going to start crying,” Grantz.
This season, the results of the team’s hard work are plain to see. Libs and the rest of the Pioneers are older, stronger and tougher.
“I wanted to make their practices very, very difficult,” Grantz said. “I wanted to challenge them, both mentally and physically. .. . In the first quarter of the regional championship (last Saturday), I didn’t say a word to them. I wanted them to figure it out. I’m trying to empower them. In the the post-season, they’ve been empowered.”
The Pioneers (19-7), winners in seven of their last eight games, including a 50-44 victory over Linton-Stockton in the Class 2-A Paoli Regional, will be headed to the school’s third Semi-State Saturday, when they will face Indianapolis Howe (22-7) at 1 p.m. in Richmond. The Pioneers are led by the team’s only senior, Libs (10.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg); and junior point guard Juston Betz (13.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.2 apg).
Betz is one of the Pioneers who has literally grown up. In the past two years, he’s grown six inches and added 40 pounds of muscle.
“He got serious in the weight room and has a little growth spurt,” Grantz said of Betz, who is now 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds.
But it’s not only Betz’s physique that has grown. His numbers on the court have improved immeasurably as well. Last year, Betz shot 36 percent from two-point range. This year, he’s hitting those shots at a 62-percent clip.
“Now, I’m one of the biggest players, especially at the point guard or shooting guard position,” Betz said. “I can go into the lane and score.”
Betz and Griffin both said it’s been a smooth transition with the new coaching staff.
“On the court, he’s a hard-nosed guy,” Betz said of Grantz, who turned 27-years old on Wednesday. “He will get in your face. We learned that as soon as he came here. After the first game, we ran for an hour straight.
“Off the court, he’s one of our best friends. We can laugh with him and joke with him. We do impressions all the time. He’s an awesome time. It’s a different connection.”
Grantz said he wants the players to know he cares.
“It’s almost like an older brother relationship, in a way,” he said. “There’s definitely respect there, especially the younger guys. I’m pretty tough on them. I coach them very, very hard. But at the same time, I love them a whole lot.
I’m not old enough to be a father figure, but I am old enough to be that bigger brother who will get on you when you screw up. I think the boys and I have that mutual relationship. We really want to take care of each other.”