Basketball now a 12-month game

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 11, 2000

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / October 11, 2000

RESERVE – It’s 2:15 p.m. on Sept. 19 in the East St. John High School gym.Members of the Lady Cats basketball team are beginning to file into the classroom to prepare for conditioning drills.

East St. John head coach Troy Giordano stands by the door, watching forany players arriving late. The final bell rings at 2:10 p.m. Players have 10minutes to report to the classroom or face running “suicides,” sprints to each of the lines on the court.

No one is late on this day, the fourth day of conditioning. Giordano collectsthe necessary paperwork from the players that allows them to participate.

Players must have their physicals in by Oct. 1 in order to play.Giordano then holds up a piece of paper of his own – the Class 5A brackets for the 2000-2001 season. He announces that the team has to win district- something it has done for the past four years – to have a shot at the Sweet 16 Tournament. The second-place team has a much tougher road inthe playoffs.

The players then file out of the classroom to begin warmups. Senior co-captains Kinya Lennix and Danielle Stemley head out front to lead the stretching. The two are both four-year members of the team and both havealready committed to play basketball collegiately next year.

After a short warmup period, the players begin skipping rope, starting at 30-second intervals and working their way up to two minutes by the last day of conditioning. The same goes for the other conditioning exercisesthe players will go through – jumping over cones, step climbing on the bleachers and running sprints on the court. The day will end with a runaround the school.

Giordano leads the team back to the classroom. “Raise your hand if youwant to be a champion,” Giordano tells the team. Everybody’s hands go up.”Who thinks the rest of the district didn’t out-work us today?” Only two hands go up this time. Giordano then gives the team the option ofcontinuing to run. The team files out and begins running suicides.”You run these because you want to be a champion,” Giordano announces.

“This is what separates you from everybody else. When you are tired, youkeep going. The people who stay here will be champions.”The session will close with a prayer and a chant of “Lady Cat Pride” by the players. But for some the day is not yet over. They will continue theirconditioning on their own on the weights.

A year-round grind

Unlike college basketball, there is no Midnight Madness in high school.

Although conditioning usually begins around Labor Day and the first official day for practice assigned by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association is Oct. 1 this year, most programs have basketball nearlyyear-round.

For East St. John, preparation for the 2000-2001 season began shortlyafter the 1999-2000 season ended in the Class 5A Regionals at Airline in March. The team began spring practice for the new season in April. Shortlyafter the school year ended, the Lady Cats were back at it, attending team camps. This year the Lady Cats traveled to four of them – MississippiState, Nicholls State, Southeastern Louisiana and McNeese State – enjoying success at all four.

At Mississippi State, the Lady Cats went 7-1, losing only to two-time Mississippi state champion Murray. Kinya Lennix and Kojavona Hamiltonboth made the tournament’s all-star game. At Nicholls, Eats St. John againlost once – to Ellender. Ellender again defeated the Lady Cats atSoutheastern but East St. John came back to win the camp’s tournament.The Lady Cats finished the summer by going undefeated at McNeese State.

But more so than the success the team enjoyed, Giordano’s goal for the camps was to bring the team closer together.

“The main thing is to develop team camaraderie,” Giordano said. “Not onlydo they get to play basketball but they get to spend time together and get to know each other.”In addition to the camps, East St. John also played in the River ParishesSummer League. The Lady Cats again had success, losing once. Giordanoused both the camps and league not so much to rebuild as to fill spots after losing five seniors from last year. One, Kavonna Reese, signed toplay collegiate ball, while another, Ginina Louis, was selected to the all- Metro team.

“I think this year’s team is deeper than last year’s and better at every position except we don’t have the big post player,” Giordano said.

More than Winning

East St. John’s last camp ended in early August. The team had the rest ofthe month and up to the day after Labor Day to rest up before conditioning began. The conditioning sessions were held twice a week through the restof September, not a day too soon for most of the team.

“They couldn’t wait,” Giordano said. “They couldn’t wait to bring the ballsout and for conditioning to end.”Regular practice has many of the same rules as conditioning. The playershave 10 minutes to report to the team’s classroom after the final bell or risk running suicides.

The second day of practice (Oct. 2) begins with a tape of a speech by thelate Jim Valvano, the coach who led North Carolina State to an improbable national championship in 1983 and one of the game’s best motivational speakers. Valvano is talking about goals, saying he looks at three things -where he was, where he is and where he wants to be.

Giordano turns off the tape and points to a diagram on the backboard showing a circle representing where he is and a line toward a goal. “It’shuman nature to stop when you reach satisfaction,” he tells the team.

“Are you happy winning 20 games, winning the district title and going undefeated at home? If you are not happy until you reach the state championship, you will do it. Don’t set small goals.”Both Giordano and his assistant coach, Bob Payne, call this the enrichment period. Giordano has a cabinet full of motivational tapes, ranging fromSkip Bertman and Bobby Knight to Cynthia Cooper and Hubie Brown.

“We want everybody who comes through this program to be successful in whatever they do,” Giordano said. “We teach them to be a winner inanything they do. We apply it to basketball but then we also apply it towork and school.”If Giordano and Payne feel a player has the ability to play college basketball, they begin to market her as a freshman. Some time during thesophomore year, they sit down with the player’s parents and discuss what they are doing. The process continues throughout the junior and senioryears.

That policy has paid off. Of the 15 players who have graduated from theprogram since Giordano and Payne took over in 1996, 12 are in college.

Four – Keeshawn Carter (UNO), Veyond Williams (SUNO), Tamika Williams (SLU) and Kavonna Reese (Holmes Community College) – are on basketball scholarships. And all three of this year’s seniors are planning to go tocollege, two – Kinya Lennix (Tulane) and Danielle Stemley (SUNO) – on basketball scholarships.

“We work with them,” Giordano said, adding that he calls his former players about every two weeks. “If they don’t get an athletic scholarship,we try to get them in school somehow. Something we are doing is payingoff for these kids. The program is not about winning games. The wins andlosses are for the public to see. The program is for us to see and for thewhat the kids are getting out of it. The wins are fun but what the publicdoesn’t see is what we do for the kids.”This day’s enrichment period continues with the reading of a quote by Michael Jordan on the importance of fundamentals. Giordano makes sureit’s not a lesson lost on the players. If a drill is not done right, (i.e.Failure to box out on a rebound or guarding with the wrong hand) the player runs.

After the quotes are read, the players file out of the room to begin their warmup exercises. From there, it’s on to a series of drills, beginning withball-handling. The first third of the drills are the same everyday. Theremainder change daily depending on what Giordano wants to focus on. Onthis day, the work is focused around defense.

Giordano closes out this practice with a game between his team and the boys’ junior varsity. The Lady Cats struggle early, trying to shoot from theoutside. Giordano makes a change, going to a diamond offense and the gamebecomes a runaway for the Lady Cats. Lennix, Stemley, Erin Keller,Hamilton and Courtney Drayton combine to defeat the boys, 10-4. A teamof Lennix, Stemley, Hamilton, Raeonda Jasper and Lacrisha Walker follow that up with another victory.

The attention to detail in practice has paid off in a successful four-year period on the court. Over that period, East St. John has won four straightdistrict titles and advance to the regionals each year. The Lady Cats are108-24 (a .818 winning percentage) over that time and currently have atleast a 48-game winning streak on their home court.

Giordano and Payne review the film of each varsity game as well as the freshman and junior varsity teams. Neither is afraid of criticism fromeach other.

“I don’t like to lose big time,” Giordano said. “When we lose a game, Istart to think what we did as coaches to lose the game. I dwell on them.Coach Payne is always telling me to get off that horse, that game was two weeks ago.”

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