Editor's Note: Scott City boys basketball coach Glenn O'Neil provided The Telegram access to his team, staff and himself during Saturday's lead-up to the Class 3A State Championship game at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
By BRETT MARSHALL
HUTCHINSON It's 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 10, nearly four hours after the Scott City Beavers had defeated Rock Creek in the Class 3A boys semifinal basketball tournament.
Beavers' assistant coaches Scott Holt, a 31-year veteran of the school district and a 16-year aide to head coach Glenn O'Neil, and Brian Gentry, in his fifth season on the staff, have just completed their scouting report on Nemaha Valley, the team they would face for the state title in less than 17 hours.
The Beavers had an 11:30 p.m. lights out at the Ramada Inn Conference Center following their win, thus giving hope that the 12-man team would have its best opportunity for a solid night of rest.
The two assistants had taken one Nemaha Valley game video and their own observations in compiling the scouting report. They also had watched the Raiders rally in the second half to defeat Central Heights in the other semifinal. The Raiders would have the luxury of about three hours extra rest for the championship tipoff.
7:30 a.m. Coaches and players find their way to the continental breakfast room and for the next hour, players come and go. With no set menu, players and coaches select a wide range of items. They are careful, though, not to indulge as they will be heading to a local gymnasium mid-morning for their game-day shootaround.
For the next hour and a half, players simply return to their hotel rooms (four to a room) and relax, getting as much rest as possible, chatting with each other and thinking about the opportunity that will be presented to them in about 10 hours a chance to repeat as the Class 3A state champions.
9:40 a.m. The Scott City activity bus, with longtime driver Jan Tucker behind the wheel, makes the short drive to Trinity High School for the all-important shootaround. This 75-minute time frame will serve to be the planning for how the Beavers will face a Raiders team that the coaches describe as "like no team we've played before."
10 a.m. Every player is on the court, having gone through stretching exercises to prepare for their short session with O'Neil and his staff.
Clearly, Glenn O'Neil is running the show. He has his scouting report on a paper, which he periodically pulls from his pocket to review and then is back to instructing his team. This is the scouting report on the Nemaha Valley Raiders, a team with a 23-2 record compiled against mostly 3A and 4A schools.
The first focus is on the Raiders' offense.
"They've got the big three that carry them," O'Neil said, referring to Nemaha's Trent Olberding, Alex Hermesch and Creighton Brinker. "We've got to be aware of their inside players, they like to block shots. They're patient and well-coached. We've gotta be ready."
For the first few minutes, the Beavers seem lethargic as they go through their opening layup drill. O'Neil doesn't like what he sees.
"Surely we don't have to run to get you guys to pay attention," O'Neil barked out from mid-court as he watches the simple drill. "Let's get with it, we have to be focused."
The players, this time, do respond. The intensity level picks up and the focus is clearly there.
"Remember, this is a team that is battle-tested," O'Neil reminds his team. "They're not like anybody you've played. They are a slimmed-down version of Beloit (Scott City's first-round victim). They have a lot of length that will create challenges for us."
O'Neil singles out Nemaha's Brinker, a slender 6-5 junior postman, when discussing strategy.
"No. 30 (Brinker), he's had nine blocked shots and we need to knock his butt out, get our body into his and get him out of the way," O'Neil says demonstratively. "They're well-schooled defensively, so you're gonna have to use a ball fake. The one thing you need to remember about them is that they don't panic when they get down. They're not a deep team, so we want to get up on them early and we want to control the tempo with our defense. We have to be patient on defense, work hard, they will pass the ball 10 to 15 times before they take the shot they want."
11:15 a.m. The shootaround, walk-through, scouting session is complete. The team huddles at center court and simply ends it with raised hands and chanting, "1-2-3, finish."
Anthony Wilson, a 6-1 junior reserve and transfer from Greeley County, played on the 2011 Jackrabbits Class 1A-Division II championship team.
"It's been a fun season, a lot different," Wilson says of his first year with the Beavers. "The speed of the game and the physicality is much different. I think it's just a lot of excitement to able to play in a state championship game."
11:30 a.m. The short bus ride takes the team and coaches to the nearby Sirloin Stockade for lunch.
A big buffet with a variety of food greets the players. Tables have been reserved near the back of the restaurant for the Beavers. With no set menu for the players, they each get to select the foods that are most appealing to them. And they eat plenty of it. The coaches believe it best to allow them to eat foods they like. It is where the team ate prior to its 2011 championship.
12:15 p.m. The team departs for a return to its hotel. Check-out time is about 2 p.m. and only a few rooms will be available for the players to lounge in and where coaches will make their final arrangements before heading to the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
Braeden Robinson, the lone senior starter on the Beavers, and just one of two seniors on the roster, says he is a little sore from the two rough-and-tumble tournament games.
"I'm anxious to get there, it's different than a year ago and I'm looking forward to it," says Robinson, a reserve on the 2011 team.
Junior forward Joey Meyer says his group will simply listen to music and relax, trying to keep their minds free but focused on the game.
"I don't think we're as nervous as last year," Meyer says. "I think not being the underdog has made for a better experience."
Meyer says there's no watching college basketball, only listening to their favorite songs and "just chillin'."
2 p.m. Brian Gentry is in Room 226, having just spent a few minutes in the hotel's sports bar with his family and friends. He's been here before as a player the starting point guard on the 2002 Class 2A Valley Falls unbeaten team. His team, though, lost to Remington that year, a loss that still haunts him to this day.
"I just try to relay some of my experiences to the guards," says Gentry, who played his college ball at Fort Hays State University. "I can relate to the kids pretty well age-wise (he's 29)."
2:10 p.m. Glenn O'Neil sits in a chair in Room 225. Alone. Television off, deep in thought. In his own words, this is the toughest, worst time of the day for a coach.
"Just the waiting, that's the hard part," O'Neil says. "You're trying to focus in on everything. You hope you've done everything you can to be prepared."
2:25 p.m. The Beavers' Robinson is walking down the hallway, having just returned from the hotel's main lobby. Nemaha Valley's boosters, cheerleaders and players were having a pep rally. Whatever was said, whatever transpired, it fired Robinson up.
"I don't think they respect us," he said. "I can't wait to play."
3:40 p.m. Players and coaches board the bus, again for a short drive to the Arena. Arriving just minutes later, the team departs and checks into the Arena and heads to locker room No. 3, the assigned location for the home team. They are greeted by tournament host Marc Trent.
With the girls championship game set for a 4 p.m. tipoff, the Beavers walk upstairs to the balcony level where they sit and watch the first quarter of the Burlington-Silver Lake title game. Then it's time to head to the locker room to dress for halftime warmup. Brett O'Neil's t-shirt has inscribed on the back the theme, "One Team, One Dream. To Be the best in the West."
4:40 p.m. Coach O'Neil sits on the bench and watches Nemaha Valley during halftime warm-up. It's one last opportunity where he can get one final look at their opponent. Holt nervously and anxiously stands courtside watching. Gentry is giving instructions to a couple of players on finger exercises to loosen hand muscles.
4:45 p.m. The Beavers again, go back to the upper level of the Arena to watch third quarter action of the girls game. At the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter, it's back to the locker room for one final set of instructions from O'Neil. But before they get there, Ron Baker, the team's hero from the season before, arrives from Wichita where he is a redshirt freshman for the Shockers. It was Baker who scored the winning basket to give the Beavers their 2011 title. He gives his best wishes to his former teammates and heads to the seats.
5:05 p.m. Coach O'Neil has his points of emphasis written on the eraser board in the locker room. He reviews each item carefully make their shooters uncomfortable, deny the post, pressure the ball, finish on the boards. "Do What Got Us Here" is in big letters.
His final reminder is simple "Are they mentally tougher than us? They think so. We need to convince them that they aren't."
Holt comes into the locker room and tells the team the girls game is going into overtime.
5:20 p.m. Jennifer O'Neil can be found sitting in the high portion of the lower level seats at the Arena. The wife of head coach Glenn and mother to sons Brett and Trey, she has been through this feeling hundreds of times. It never gets easier for the woman who prefers to stay in the background.
"I don't see Glenn or the boys much at all on game day," she says. "They need their space. They need to focus. There will be time to talk to them afterward."
5:40 p.m. Back in the locker room, 35 minutes to tipoff.
Coach O'Neil tells his players that this is, "just another game. Go out, have fun!"
With the girls game concluded, the Beavers arrive on the floor for their pre-game warmup. With just under 10 minutes before tipoff, the Beavers head back to the locker room for one final moment.
6:05 p.m. There are no words from coach O'Neil. The players, of their own accord, kneel together and recite the Lord's Prayer. The coaches are in the background, kneeling, too, silently.
The players slowly arise and then head up the stairs and into the hallway for the walk into the Sports Arena. Trey O'Neil, the only freshman on the varsity roster and the youngest son of the head coach, stays behind. He kneels at the bench, deep in thought and adjusts his uniform one final time. He then scurries up the stairs, joining his teammates as they wait to go back out on the floor.
6:15 p.m. Tipoff.
If ever there was textbook, clinic basketball, this was it.
The Beavers come out firing on all cylinders defensively and offensively.
In the opening 7 minutes, 27 seconds of the 3A state championship game, the Beavers effectively won the game.
Nemaha Valley had 13 possessions, were forced into five turnovers and the Beavers blocked three shots. The Raiders were a collective 1-of-11 shooting and only a 3-point basket with 33 seconds left in the quarter kept it from being a whitewash in the first eight minutes.
By then, the Beavers' high-octane offense was off to the races.
It was Meyer who got the Beavers' scoring off and running with a reverse layup. Robinson then knocked down the first of three 3-pointers in the quarter. Drew Kite, the big man down low, knocked down two baskets and Brett O'Neil finished off the onslaught with a 3-pointer just 22 seconds before the quarter's conclusion.
When the teams headed back to the bench, it was Scott City 18, Nemaha Valley 3.
"It's as good as I've had any of my teams play in that stretch," coach O'Neil would later say.
6:35 p.m. The second quarter begins and the lead swells to 22 points, 29-7. The Raiders are shell-shocked and look like Indiana Jones running from the big boulder.
But as O'Neil had predicted, the Raiders didn't, wouldn't go away.
A late 8-1 run in the second quarter cut the deficit to 15, 30-15, at halftime.
"It was a good start, but not a good finish," coach O'Neil said at intermission. "We've got to get back out there and in the first three to five minutes, get re-established. We're halfway home, we've gotta be tough and hit the boards."
Word filters back that there is extra time on the clock instead of the usual 10-minute break. O'Neil takes the opportunity to keep reviewing things, focusing on details. There is no big pep talk.
7:05 p.m. The third quarter begins and Nemaha Valley makes one final push, closing to 10 points. That would be it, though. The Beavers' lead never went below double digits the rest of the way. The lead was again at 15 by quarter's end. In the fourth, the Raiders trailed by as many as 18 and never were closer than the final 14-point margin.
When Brett O'Neil threw a nifty pass to Meyer for an easy layup with 1:01 left on the clock, the Beavers scored their final points and two final free throws by Nemaha Valley concluded the game.
Final score Scott City 61, Nemaha Valley 47.
O'Neil had substituted for many of the starters in the closing minute and when the final horn sounded an immediate celebration erupted at mid-court for the 12 members of the Beavers' team.
They had won the game with precision basketball.
Some might call it texbook. Others would describe it as surgical. Coaches who appreciate that may have called it a clinic.
They had gone into Nemaha Valley's heart and ripped it out in the first quarter. The Raiders' soul had been damaged, and they never fully recovered.
Scott City shot 56.4 percent from the field, made 68 percent of its free throws, won the rebounding battle and compiled 17 assists on 22 made baskets, an amazing 77 percent. It was the ultimate performance of team basketball.
Four players had scored in double figures, none with more than 13.
After the medal and trophy presentation, and team photos were snapped, Scott City fans converged on the floor to share in the joy of the moment.
The usual post-game interviews would take place for coach O'Neil and several players.
With hardly a soul left in the Arena proper, there was Glenn O'Neil, with his wife, daughter Allie and two sons, having a photo taken at center court.
More than 30 minutes later, the players had showered, gathered their gear and headed to the bus. Tucker would drive the team home, a trip of 182 miles and nearly four hours on Kansas Highway 96.
The Beavers had arrived on Wednesday, defeated a tough Beloit team, 72-63, and then returned to Scott City on Thursday morning. They attended school in the afternoon. They practiced at home on Thursday and then made the return trip to Hutchinson on Friday, where they manhandled Rock Creek, 64-49.
In three games, the Beavers had played 96 minutes of basketball. For 42 seconds of the first quarter of the first game against Beloit, the Beavers trailed, 4-2. When they tied the game with 5:11 left in the period, they would never trail again in the ensuing 11 quarters.
No player had scored more than 18 points in any one game at the state tourney. Three different players either led or shared high-point honors.
They had come to Hutchinson with a purpose. They had accomplished their goal. They were a team. They had 25 wins against 1 loss. And they were the state champions.