This isn’t so much a rebuilding project as it is a building project for new South Effingham High boys basketball coach Jason Keeler.
A year ago, the Mustangs had a roster full of seniors and went 10-16, losing to Butler in the first round of the Region 3-AAA tournament. Of the 18 players on the 2007-08 varsity roster, 10 are freshmen.
“All things considered, they are going very well if for no other reason than the guys I have are working hard,” Keeler said. “We can’t control the fact we’re short and slow and young. But we can control how hard we work.”
Keeler came to SEHS from Vero Beach and the prospect of having to start over from scratch didn’t dissuade from taking the job. Quite the contrary.
“I think that’s what drew me to it,” he said. “While some people see that as a negative, I saw it as an opportunity.”
Keeler is “absolutely” starting from scratch, almost right down to the very building blocks of the game. Even the upperclassmen got scant playing time last year, except for junior point guard Zach Anderson.
“They’re learning new terminology,” he said. “I’m spending 30 minutes each practice on passing and catching the ball and on spacing. We’re really starting from scratch.”
With Anderson having the only experience of note, that means the rest will be learning on the fly.
“Zach’s the only one who understands the other team is going to be bigger, stronger and faster,” Keeler said. “I can’t simulate that in practice. We can’t simulate that speed.”
Yet he also can’t wait to see what his team can do in a game. Their originally-scheduled opener with ECI was cancelled because the Bulldogs, a Class A team, are in the state football playoffs and don’t have enough players to go around for a basketball team at the same time.
As it stands, the Mustangs will open at home tonight against Claxton, another Class A school involved in the state football playoffs.
“As much as we need a lot more practice,” Keeler said, “I’m excited about the opportunity to take the floor against another opponent. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to have a trial by fire.
“This is probably a pretty good freshman class, by anybody’s standards,” he said. “And by necessity, they are going to get a lot of experience this year.”
One thing Keeler believes he has in his favor is having a substantial portion of his feeder program literally right next door at South Effingham Middle. He and Effingham County High boys coach Travis Dickey plan to put on clinics with the help of the recreation department.
It’s not just building a team or a program that’s on Keeler’s to-do list; he also wants to establish basketball as a way of life.
“There was a basketball culture where we left,” he said. “I took that as an opportunity to create one here. My goal is to make the community a basketball community. I drive around and see basketball hoops and they’re lonely.”
In the more immediate future, Keeler is optimistic about his young group, particularly the way they are heeding to his instruction.
“The thing I think I’m most excited about is the fact they are like sponges,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything to discourage me to think that we can’t make this work. I don’t see any reason why we can’t enjoy the success of the other sports.”