When Troy Haberman arrived in Tribune last summer to become the new boys basketball coach at Greeley County High School, he did his level best to convince outgoing USD200 Superintendent Bill Wilson (hired at Scott City) to allow his son, Anthony, to live with Haberman, his wife and eight children.

That plan didn't work out and Wilson is now a reserve on the No. 1-ranked Scott City Beavers' Class 3A defending state champion team.

But shed no tears for Haberman. He's transformed what many had believed to be a "rebuilding" year into another contending year for the Jackrabbits.

It was just a year ago that a veteran cast of players, led by Jonathan Miller and Stephen Houston, when the Jackrabbits stormed to the Class 1A-Division II state title in Hays. But only one true starter, with the departure of graduating seniors and the transfer of Wilson, greeted Haberman when practice began in November.

"It's certainly been a whirlwind around here today," Haberman said on Monday afternoon, two days after his team won the sub-state title in Colby with a 46-39 victory over Cheylin. "We're trying to get a handle on just how things have happened."

The Jackrabbits will open defense of their title at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday against Otis-Bison (16-7) at Gross Memorial Coliseum at Fort Hays State University.

Haberman, who coached in the tiny south central Nebraska school of Wilcox-Hildreth, said the team's 17-5 season record has been one of hard work, dedication, adjusting to new coaching styles, and school tradition.

"We had a lot of close games, some we lost, some we won," Haberman said. "I also think we've played a tough schedule and that has made us more mentally tough."

With the exception of senior guard Chaz Schneider, most of the players who start or come off the bench this season, saw limited or no playing time a year ago.

"I think when you've got a great tradition like they do here, the younger kids can sit on the bench, watch and see how things are done, they go through all the steps," Haberman said. "Then, when it's their turn, they have a better idea of how to put it together."

Haberman said that he was fortunate to follow in the footsteps of former coach Jeff Starkey, who left to coach at 3A Atchison County in northeast Kansas (his team was 22-1 this season).

"The kids have a good foundation of fundamentals," Haberman said. "Early we wanted practices to resemble game situations and I think one key was they bought into the new coaching philosophy. Coach Starkey was tough on them and I think some thought the new guy wouldn't. A couple of kids quit early on because they didn't like the discipline, but we've moved on."

Now, Haberman's 7-man rotation includes two seniors Schneider and 6-4 post Adam Smith along with juniors AJ Govert, Troy Wineinger and Cesar Yanez. Two subs junior Miguel Trejo and sophomore Martin Veleta are about as deep into the bench that Haberman goes.

"We've had balanced scoring, where four or five players have been high scorers in a game," Haberman said. "We don't have a true point guard, so we do that by committee. Troy has probably been our most valuable player he's a great defender and motivator for us. Everybody has understood their role and that's what has made things work so well."

He cited Smith, someone who probably wasn't on the floor more than 20 minutes as a junior, is averaging just six points, but pulls down double-digit rebounds and averages four blocks per game.

"He's the defensive guy inside for us that helps so much," Haberman said of Smith. "I could make a case for everybody that has played, that without them, we wouldn't be headed back to Hays."

A victory in Wednesday's quarterfinal would send them into Friday's 8:15 p.m. semifinal against the winner of the Hope (20-3) vs. Wheatland/Grinnell (10-13) contest.

See pairings in Scoreboard, Page B2.