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Champions surging through summer

By WILL CARTER ~ Sports Writer
Posted 7/6/22

One of the most important times of high school athletics is the offseason because it gives time for reflection of the highs and lows experienced months prior, roster turnover, and areas that need …

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Champions surging through summer

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One of the most important times of high school athletics is the offseason because it gives time for reflection of the highs and lows experienced months prior, roster turnover, and areas that need improvement.
Some programs take some extended time off to give players rest and coaches time to recuperate and make a plan for the few months of work to come.
Others take minimal time off and jump right back into the swing of things.
The Cascade Champions boys basketball program got right back to work with an emphasis on getting stronger in the weight room shortly after suffering a 72-59 loss in their Region 4-AA semifinal against Pearl Cohn in early March.
“We got back in the weight room not too long after that and started lifting two to three days a week,” Champions head coach Chris Lawson said. “We just needed to get back in there to build some muscle. When we got beat by Pearl Cohn, they were stronger than we were. So, we just wanted to and still want to grow and develop in the weight room.”
The Champions strength work transitioned almost immediately into spring practice before what many refer to as, “the dog days of summer,” started up.
Summer is an exciting time for high schoolers that get a break from their usual academic responsibilities, but for those that participate in athletics, especially basketball, there isn’t much time to rest with practices and camp games virtually every week.
Cascade was very familiar with that this summer having traveled to various locations across the state to compete and improve their squad.
Playing teams that ranged in classification and prowess such as Jackson South Side and Centennial, the Champions gained their fair share of experience even without some of their key players on the floor.
“My message to the guys during those times was that there were times where we didn’t have everybody, and we had to make adjustments and roll with the punches,” Lawson said. “Obviously summer ball isn’t about winning and losing. You want to win every game you play, but more than anything we had opportunities to get some younger guys valuable time and experience. We saw growth by the end of the summer with those guys, and I felt really good on our last day of playing.”
While losing in the region semis might have been devastating, the biggest loss for the Champions at the end of the season was that of their senior post presence Justis Carter.
Carter led the team in points and rebounds throughout last season, and was a key component of their success for the last two seasons.
Filling his vacancy on both ends of the floor would be difficult for any team, but Lawson is confident in his players that have stepped up throughout the summer to do the job.
“From a rebounding standpoint, Saebyn Burris and Isaac McElroy did a really good job for us this summer,” Lawson said. “My message to them was that they are our biggest guys with the most experience. So, it’s either going to be them, or other teams are going to push us around down low.”
On the scoring side of things, the Champions will look to their second scoring option from last season, Lucas Clanton, as well as a “scoring by committee” approach.
“We don’t have Justis Carter to rely on, so I think they started to realize, and it’s still ongoing, that other people are going to have to score,” Lawson said.
“In my first year at Cascade, we were dangerous because we had points coming from a bunch of different guys. I think that’s what we’re working back towards for this season.”
Clanton was a heavy contributor on both sides of the floor for the Champions last season as he complimented Carter’s dominant post play with athleticism and length from the guard position.
Heading into his senior campaign, Clanton and his teammates will be counting on him to step into a more commanding role.
“In my opinion, we have the best player in the district coming back,” Lawson said.
“He’ll have to prove that, but Lucas is tough – he’s tough to guard. We’re going to put the ball in his hands as much as possible. We have other guards that can score too, so if they take Lucas’ options away then we can give the ball to any of our other guards.”
Up-and-down the Champions’ roster are guards that can play with or without the basketball in their hands.
While it is never a bad thing to have a plethora of players to turn to around the perimeter, it is almost imperative in high school basketball to have a post presence that can secure rebounds and contribute points from the painted area.
With a few players that can fill that position and his roster in mind, Lawson turned his attention to one team in an attempt to instill a championship frame of mind – the Golden State Warriors. “I watched a lot of the Warriors during the playoffs and how they got shots,” Lawson said. “Obviously they’re professionals and the best in the business at shooting the three-point ball, but I’m kind of thinking that we’re going to have to shoot more from the outside while still feeding it inside.”
“They do a great job of that, so I watched a lot of what they did. I try to incorporate some of their tendencies and principles, and I think the guys have picked that up well.”
As summer winds down and the season grows closer by the day, the Champions will continue to work towards their goal of reaching the state championship.

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