There is a lot to observe at an Ironwood High boys’ basketball practice, and some of the first takeaways have nothing to do with the X’s and O’s of the sport itself. There is a lot of noise, both coming from coaches trying to frazzle players while practicing free throws or the players themselves yelling defensive instructions and issuing challenges to teammates in drills.
There are also a lot of teaching moments. An argument between a guard and forward in a preseason training session about a missed pass turned into a long discussion between the team about how they can get better as a collective group. It’s just the type of leadership coach Jordan Augustine likes to see from his top players.
“I think it’s the most talented team from top to bottom. But, talent doesn’t matter if everyone’s not doing the right things. That’s the challenge, starting from scratch with a group that isn’t actually starting from square one. They have the history of being here before, being successful,” he said.
Besides the plethora of great skill, this year’s Eagles squad is one of the oldest Augustine has had in his five seasons as head coach. Ironwood is senior and junior-heavy, with few underclassmen making up important roles on the floor.
“There’s more maturity on the court. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do more, and then they can be in the right spots. We’re still learning because of the transfers and different guys in roles that weren’t there before, but having all this experience is helpful,” senior guard Dominic Gonzalez said.
But not everybody is a returner. The Eagles were the beneficiaries of a few key transfers, many of whom add not just more ability and new faces of leadership, but also size. Even still, Ironwood is a bit smaller at some of the forward positions than many of their toughest 5A opponents. Thus, said it will have to rely on toughness and quality defensive positioning to keep others from scoring or dominating them on the boards.
If the Eagles can keep up their fast style of play, using their conditioning and quickness to tire opponents out, while still being fundamentally sound, there is no reason they cannot stack up wins in 2019-20.
“I saw in the summer and fall, we didn’t box out as well as we should have, a lot of staring, but if we focus on it more and then keep being able to push the pace I think we could do something special,” junior JJ White said.
In order to reach their goal of doing special something, the Eagles will have to fully recover from last season’s 60-59 5A playoff quarterfinal loss to Millennium, which came on a controversial lane violation after a free throw in the dying seconds of the game.
Gonzalez said the memory is in the back of the players’ minds many days on the court, though less so now than in summer practices just mere months after last season. But, it serves as motivation, rather than something the Eagles are allowing to drag them down.
“It obviously still haunts us, but it doesn’t help to keep looking in the past. We can only move forward and just focus on controlling what we can control now, and it’s having as good of a season as we can,” Gonzalez said.
Coming up short of their ultimate championship aspirations, regardless of the reason, means even more work needs to be put in by everybody involved with the Eagles team.
As the players finished up practice, some still offering verbal encouragement in between friendly jawing about the training they just finished, it was clear Augustine’s team is not trying to rewrite last year’s chapter in their history, but rather add a new one with an original journey.
“If we cared that much and did that much and still came up one point short, then our daily process has to be that much better now. But, we’re not practicing trying to be better than last year or the years past,” Augustine said.
“We’re doing everything so we can be the best version of this team, and whatever that ends up with in terms of record or a championship or not is just one part of the result.”