By Karl Bullock
It’s starting to become heartbreaking.
The Von Steuben boys’ basketball team lost to Farragut Academy 63-57 on Saturday night. Early turnovers and poor shot selection put the Panthers down early before their aggressive defense allowed them to claw their way back into the game.
“We’re not the type of team that can wait until the third or fourth quarter and then flip the switch,” assistant coach Richard Huy said. “If we can get everybody on the team to play with the same intensity for the entire game as the five guys we had out there [on the floor], we don’t lose those one or two-point games.”
Huy is encouraged to see players overcome early mental lapses and play competitively late in games, but acknowledged that it’s not an ideal recipe for success. Before Thursday’s 98-52 loss to Uplift, Von Steuben had gone 1-5 in its last six games, decided by a total of 14 points.
For senior point guard Rafael Cruz, Saturday’s close loss echoed a familiar theme for the Panthers this season.
“That group of five we had [on the floor] played the whole second half,” he said. “If we had three guys come off the bench just like that and play just as hard, we’d be winning a lot of games and potentially be first in conference.”
The Panthers sit in second place in the Chicago Public League Red North conference standings at 3-3 behind Uplift (6-0).
Huy said the learning curve for varsity basketball is steep, and the five players who finished out the game have earned the trust of the coaching staff.
“Showing us they’re capable of making adjustments on the fly, executing things that we’ve asked them to do in practice has given us [the coaching staff] that ability and the confidence to play them more in games,” he said.
In the meantime, Huy said it’s up to the bench players to make the starting five better in practice and show coaches they are ready to play in key moments.
“You have to be able to go into the game and not hurt us,” Huy said.
After three consecutive losses and with the Panthers’ season more than halfway done, Huy wants the first- and second-team players motivating each other and competing aggressively in practice. When the time comes for substitutions in games, he hopes the team avoids a drop-off.
“Their job, even if they’re not in the starting five, is to make the starting five better by pushing them in practice,” he said. “Not only are they making the first five better, but they’re making themselves better and showing that we [the coaches] can play them in a game.”