Jeff Schlecht wrote a message on Ashland's dry-erase board Wednesday that could serve as the mission statement for the Grizzlies boys basketball program.
It was a quote by legendary UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden: "The star of the team is the team."
"So what I want these guys to do is share the ball and trust one another, rely on one another," said Schlecht, Ashland's first-year head coach. "That's what I want to promote. We look for balanced scoring and our heroes are going to be the rebounders and the assist leaders."
Schlecht, a former AHS principal who retired in 2010, takes over a team that struggled to do all of the above last season while coming up short, often woefully so, in 20 of its 21 games. To say that the Grizzlies were usually overmatched would be an understatement — Ashland lost nine games by at least 30 points and twice was lambasted by more than 50.
Schlecht hopes to turn the program around by preaching a team-first philosophy grounded in strong fundamentals. So far, he's pleased with the results, but says the Grizzlies need a lot more court time together to mesh. Ashland won its season opener at Yreka last Thursday, 81-78, but has been idle since thanks to the snow storm that led to the cancellation of the rest of the Yreka tournament as well as Ashland practices.
Now, the Grizzlies head into today's Phoenix High basketball tournament having not played together in a game or practice in a week.
"We have four sophomores that have never played any varsity ball and a couple of seniors and juniors, so "¦we're still trying to understand our strengths and how we want to play," Schlecht said. "We just need more time.
"Practicing against each other is one level, but it's in the battle of the game where you can determine who can do what."
Weather permitting, the Grizzlies will continue that process today in a first round game against Rogue River, a Class 3A program that competes in District 1. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. The three-day tournament wraps up with placing games Saturday.
The Grizzlies seemed to embrace Schlecht's team-first philosophy in their season-opening win last week, when senior wing Gabe Stanley led four Grizzlies in double figures with 18 points. Stanley, Ashland's leading scorer last season, also had eight rebounds and two blocks, Colin Malcomb added 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals, and Jackson Byers contributed 15 points and five boards.
Stanley, Malcomb, Byers and Mitchell Harfst, all listed as either 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 wings, have each earned spots in the starting lineup for the Grizzlies. Besides that foursome, guard-forward Walker Shibley-Styer, guards Ethan Jones, Jerrimiah Hasskamp and Jack Feinberg and posts Michael Crenshaw, Parker Layton and Michael Pruit will see playing time, although how much has yet to be determined.
Schlecht didn't get into specifics about an offense that he says differs greatly from the one used by former head coach Larry Kellems, except to say that execution away from the ball will be critical.
"There will be a lot of ball movement and a lot of interior screens," he said. "In our offense, every kid touches the ball and every kid has to watch the ball movement. The thing that I would emphasize is, we have really focused on ball handling and the fundamentals, from shooting, ball handling, conditioning, moving with the ball, moving without the ball, and just focusing on defense, trying to figure out help and recover. We have gone back and just emphasized and focused on the fundamentals."
So far, Schlecht says, the Grizzlies have proven to be dedicated students of the game.
"In my mind they're doing great," he said. "They have a tremendous work ethic and a team spirit that is very inspiring. They understand that we don't have a lot of height so we have to use our quickness, our shooting and lock-down defense, and all of those things are a work in progress."
Defensively, Schlecht says the Grizzlies will play both zone and man-to-man depending on the opponent and the situation. Against Yreka, Ashland also utilized a full-court press, a tactic which could prove effective for the Grizzlies considering their abundance of wings.
In a side note, Ashland's schedule is expected to provide some grace as the Grizzlies adjust to Schlecht's system. Ashland enters a partnership with the 4A Skyline Conference this season, a switch that essentially trades last season's Class 6A opponents such as North Medford and Roseburg with 4A foes like Phoenix and Henley. The move should come as music to the ears of anyone who watched North Medford wax Ashland 95-23 last season.
Not that Schlecht wants to avoid games against 6A programs forever. Eventually, he hopes, the Grizzlies will be able to play at that level again. But he knows that will take time.
"I have high expectations for this team," he said. "We talk about how our motto is to get better every day, but when you're trying to integrate all these kids without varsity experience you're looking for the flow and their chemistry together. We're just getting started with that."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com.