Sporting nine seniors on the 2011-12 Red Bank roster, first-year coach Corey Lazenby set lofty expectations. After just a few practices, he declared, in reference to reaching the state tournament, “If we’re going to do it, this is going to be the year.”
What he's seen isn't the product he anticipated. Eight games in, the Lions are 4-4. They’ve scored less than 50 points three times and are 1-3 in district play.
"I was considering that our chemistry would be a lot better," Lazenby said.
His senior point guard, Barry Maddox, added that "It's different than last year." Last year's team won the District 6-AA tournament, but graduated all five starters.
Lazenby's squad hit its low point in a 44-41 loss to Central last Friday. The two teams were tied entering the fourth quarter, but Red Bank took a late lead. It disappeared down the stretch. Maddox said one problem was the expectation of blowing out a Central team picked to finish near the bottom of the district. Part of it was a scrappy opponent that has been successful in slowing down games all year. Either way, it was a turning point for Lazenby.
“That was probably the game that caused me to just take it back to the drawing board, look at the numbers and see who was playing when,” he said. “We were out of shape going into the fourth quarter. That has kind of been the case in our last three losses.”
Red Bank lost to Brainerd in overtime last Tuesday. When another close game fell from his team’s clutches Monday at home against Howard, the decision was made. Two season-long starters — major contributors — took a seat.
“We had two players, pretty core players that haven’t played to their potential and have a problem buying into what we want to implement here at Red Bank,” Lazenby said, not wanting to give specific names.
The starting lineup shifted before Tuesday night’s game at Soddy-Daisy. The new look, despite wielding less experience, was immediately successful. Junior Fred Matthews scored a career-high 25 and the Lions harassed Soddy-Daisy defensively en route to a 48-41 victory.
“With some of the changes we’ve made, it may help,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a better atmosphere for us.”
Rarely using the whistle that hung from his neck Wednesday afternoon at practice, Lazenby watched as his team scrimmaged in the dusty, “old gym” at Red Bank. There was no starting group that stayed on the floor. More than 20 players floated in and out of the game. It was indicative of how Lazenby is attempting to introduce a new mentality.
“The morale is the main aspect of it,” Lazenby said. “We’re very limited on the bench. We’ve got a lot of role players right now and getting them more minutes gives them an opportunity to grow.”
The change was effective against Soddy-Daisy. It will be put to the test twice more this week. Red Bank faces Bradley Central Thursday night then Baylor Friday night.
This stretch of four games in five days was also something Lazenby didn’t expect to have to contend with.
"I just play the cards I'm dealt," he said of inheriting the schedule set up prior to his arrival.
Maddox hinted that after back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday, some players were already a little worn down. But the new rotation will get plenty of work in non-district play.
Matthews is among a group still looking for consistency. Holes created after the shake up allowed the lanky wing player to step in to an elevated role earlier than expected.
“I can’t have 26 then have five the next game,” Matthews said. “I am trying to get up there where I can average 15 or so.”
Those relegated to diminished duties will have their chance to regain starting status, but Lazenby said it would be tough if they don't start buying in.
“We had a lot of thought processes going on, trying to find the right five to put on the court,” Lazenby said. “I believe we’ve found it. We’re just trying to build on it.”
Updated @ 10:30 a.m. on 12/15/11 for a correction. Red Bank is 1-3 in District 6-AA this season, not 0-3 as previously stated.