Brian Phipps always remembers the bad ones.
Seasons, that is.
When asked, the Nicholas County head coach immediately fired off the record of last season’s team.
“We were 4-19,” Phipps said. “No matter how many good seasons you have, the ones where you don’t win a lot of games always stick with you because you want to learn from them and avoid that again.”
Of course, Phipps didn’t envision that kind of season originally.
He anticipated having all-state guard Luke LeRose back for his senior season, but LeRose instead transferred to Shady Spring immediately following the conclusion of football season. This left Phipps and Co. to rely on a younger cast of players, and there were growing pains.
“We lost a lot of close games,” Phipps said. “We had quite a few games we lost by five points or less. There were some learning moments, but I think we were able to grow. These guys were thrown into the fire and had to go play and finished 4-19. We were right in it, but we just didn’t have that experience to get us over the top and we feel that this year we have that.”
Fortunately for the Grizzlies, they return all but one player form last year’s team and the one who doesn’t was a senior who played sparingly.
“Rylee Nicholas is our leading returner who averaged about 15 points last year and he’s our team leader, leading by example,” Phipps said. “Jay Coomes is a junior who averaged around 13 points per game for us last year and he’s gotten physically stronger. Colby Pishner averaged about 8 a game last year and created a lot of havoc defensively and passes the ball really well. Our fourth starter back is my son Bryson who will be our post starter and he’s an offensive tackle so he runs the defense, and our fifth starting spot will come down to Jordan McKinney and Brian Kenner, but whoever doesn’t start will still get a lot of playing time and they might even rotate.
“On the bench we have Wes Hill, Austin Altizer and Brycen Morrison.
“We’re not very big, but you can already tell the difference between this year and last. They practice differently, they go about their business differently and they understand what they have to do. They’re very coachable and they work hard and every one of them showed up to conditioning ready to go. We worked them hard but they kept coming back.”
Learning on the fly will be a philosophy the Grizzlies must adopt for the second year in a row.
Following the reclassification that has created a fourth classification in high school basketball around the state, Nicholas now moves up to Class AAA and back into a region that largely features the remnants of Region 3. That’s a change for the Grizzlies, who spent the last four years in Region 2, though not all is unfamiliar.
In their section is Midland Trail, which Nicholas already played twice a year, Herbert Hoover, which has shared Region 2 with the Grizzlies, and Sissonville. On the other side of the region is Shady Spring, Westside, Independence and PikeView, four teams the Grizzlies are mostly unfamiliar with.
“There’s going to be a couple nights with not a lot of sleep,” Phipps said. “We’ll be breaking down tape to get a read on some player tendencies, but that’s certainly a challenge. We’ve seen Hoover because they’ve been in the same region as us and we’ve played Trail since they’re only 15 minutes down the road, but we’ve not played Sissonville for a few years. We played Independence last year, but we’ve not played Shady Spring and Westside. But I do know all of those teams have good coaches and good players, so we have our work cut out for us.
“We know that we’re in one of the toughest regions in the state. Fortunately, we were able to get a home-and-home with every team and hopefully every time we’re on the court we’ll get better and be prepared come sectional time by improving upon what we did last year.”
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