Spartan boys start season with pair of road victories

With five seniors and eight juniors, most wouldn't call the Spartan boys basketball team young. In terms of varsity experience, however, that's exactly what they are.

With five seniors and eight juniors, most wouldn't call the Spartan boys basketball team young. In terms of varsity experience, however, that's exactly what they are.

"We really only have two starters back from last year," SHS coach Dave Kontny said, referring to Bart Bailey and Ben Lindberg.

"Mike Johnsted started one game toward the end of the season when Eric Thompson got hurt and then played the last three games on the varsity," Kontny said. "So beyond those two kids having a lot of experience and Mike just getting a little, we needed to look for players from the junior varsity with no varsity experience."

Kontny said his goal was to gain depth on the team, and he thinks 10 very solid players were kept, in addition to returning players, who will give the team that depth. In addition to the JV players who moved up, this year's team consists of a number of players who had not played since earlier in high school (Addison Griffin and Mike Vanmassenhove) and one who had never played before at any level (Jesse Covill).

"(We have) a lot of new guys this year," Bailey said. "That's a big change; last year we had a lot of seniors. We have a lot of seniors this year, but two of them hadn't played in a few years. You never know what to expect. But they're doing good so hopefully we'll just keep winning."


Still, the Spartans aren't calling this a rebuilding year, and they think this year's team will prove why.

"It's a challenge, but we're very athletic," Kontny said. "Right now we're just trying to get those kids caught up to speed, get them some playing time, get them comfortable, and try to go as deep as possible."

Early in the season Kontny expects some mistakes, such as turnovers and poor shots, but he said that is often the case, even with more experienced players. What he is actually concerned with now is making the players familiar with the system and finding the right combinations to go on the court each night.

The Spartans do not have set team captains this year but instead will have a different captain each week. However, Kontny is still looking to Bailey and Lindberg to step us as leaders for the team, but he thinks it's more important for them to lead in practice than on the floor.

"That's really where you win basketball games is in practice, not on game night," Kontny said.

On that note, Kontny felt the team has done well in practice so far this season. He said the Spartans are a very hard working team and benefit greatly from each practice.

A typical practice for the Spartans entails lots of conditioning, defensive work (both full court and half-court), shooting drills, free throws, and player match-ups where the team can get the best competition in practice.

"We don't have one team dominating the other; that's not what we want," Kontny said about scrimmages during practice. "We cover a lot of drills. I would say three-quarters of the practice is drill-orientated, with the rest of it being some full court scrimmaging."


Early in the season the team also goes over its plays everyday, memorizing the different options that originate from each play. On offense, Kontny said, the team wants to do it all; running when it can and taking time to set up for a good shot when it has to. At the defensive end, Kontny also wants to see the Spartans play an up-tempo, pressure kind of defense. So far the team has followed through with the plan, except when it comes to waiting patiently for a shot on offense.

"Because we're young and it's early in the season, it's going to take a little bit of time to know when to be patient," Kontny said. "When you don't have a fast break, learn to set your offense up, get a good look at the basket, look for weaknesses in the defense; those things come as you play. And that only comes with time and practice."

But, Kontny said, it's really up to the players. They need to understand the values and hard work it takes to be a good basketball team. In this respect, the Spartans have quite a bit going for them.

"They're all really nice, polite kids," Kontny said. "You can tell they've all been raised very well -- their parents have done a very good job with them. They're very receptive to one another; they're very coachable -- makes my job a lot easier."

In addition, Kontny said the team is very close and works well together, something the players agreed with.

"This summer we got to play in the Esko League together, so (we) kind of got to bond with everyone and play. And then a lot of the guys on the team are friends in school, so it kind of just worked out that way," Bailey said.

Johnsted also thought the biggest positive for the team was its ability to work together. He said even though a lot of players are new to the varsity squad, the players all know each other because JV and varsity teams practice together.

As to the team's playing style Johnsted, Bailey and Lindberg all said the Spartans like to push the floor and run.


"We're really athletic; we can get up and down the floor pretty good," Bailey said. "We've got some good shooters this year too, so that'll help us. We're not really big, so we rely more on our quickness and our speed."

In the past two or three years, Bailey said Spartan teams have typically slowed it down and played a half-court game, but with this year's speed, the team is better suited to adopt a fast-break style.

"We come with a lot of intensity (and) try and get the easy fast-break layups," Lindberg said.

He added that the team is scrappy and won't give up if it falls behind.

With all this in mind, the Spartan players have set their goals high this year. When asked what they wanted to see the team accomplish, Bailey and Lindberg were quick to answer.

"First and foremost, probably to win a playoff game because we haven't won one in ... our whole time up here we haven't won," Bailey said.

"So it would be nice to win a playoff game," Lindberg chimed in, "and hopefully go to state."

Coach Kontny, on the other hand, has different expectations for the Spartans this year.


"My expectations are that we gradually get better, and that we learn to play as a team and that everyone understands the value of their role in making us successful because without that, we won't be successful," Kontny said. "They're such good, coachable kids that I expect as much from them daily as I expect from myself."

Kontny said wins and losses aren't nearly as important as how the team improves over the season.

"I think we have the potential to be a very good basketball team," Kontny said.

Superior Spartans

Coach: Dave Kontny

Dec. 1 -- at Eau Claire North (W 62-41)

Dec. 5 -- at Grand Rapids (W 84-62)

Dec. 7 -- Duluth Central (L 73-65)


Dec. 12 -- at Proctor

Dec. 15 -- at Chippewa Falls

Dec. 19 -- at Duluth Denfeld

Dec. 27 -- vs. Barron, at Spooner Holiday Tourney

Dec. 28 -- vs. Spooner, at Spooner Holiday Tourney

Jan. 2 -- Duluth East

Jan. 9 -- Hermantown

Jan. 16 -- at Duluth Central


Jan. 20 -- Eau Claire Memorial, 3 p.m.

Jan. 26 -- at Cloquet

Jan. 30 -- Duluth Denfeld

Feb. 2 -- at Ashland

Feb. 9 -- Duluth Marshall

Feb. 13 -- Rice Lake

Feb. 17 -- Menomonie, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 20 -- at Duluth East

Feb. 22 -- Cloquet

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