Shady Spring head coach Ronnie Olson didn’t have much to change coming into the summer, but as any good basketball coach would do he’s made adjustments on the fly.
After losing to Fairmont Senior on a buzzer beater in the Class AAA State championship game in March, Olson hasn’t tried to reinvent basketball but instead get back to the principles that earned the Tigers a state championship in 2021.
That’s where the summer has led him.
“I think it started with one approach and it ended with a different one,” Olson said of the team’s approach to the summer. “It was just kind of about getting better and getting used to playing with each other again and it ended as let’s get back to who we were and back to the top and quit making excuses about why we weren’t able to stay there. I think the summer was good for us. I think it helped me and it helped refocus the kids. A lot of coaches have no idea how important the summer is.”
The reason Olson takes the summer so seriously is because of how he views it. He treats it as more than an offseason period.
“It’s about our execution coming in,” Olson said. “This was our preseason. A lot of people look at summer as an offseason but we looked at it like a preseason. Yeah we’ll have some fall basketball going but you’re not going to have everybody together in August. You’re going to start right back up in November and before you know you’ll blink your eyes and football will be over. We’ve got to get back to where we were. We’re not at the top of the mountain and they need to realize quick that there’s another team there and they need to quit fooling themselves. A two-point loss in a title game is the same as a first-round exit to us. I think it’s good to refocus us. I know for me personally and the coaching staff and some of the players it’s been good.”
While Olson hasn’t noticed much growth from his team as a whole, he’s noticed several players taking the next step and progressing as the Tigers eye the top spot on the mountain. Amongst them is rising junior Ammar Maxwell who stepped into the starting lineup last season after Jack Williams tore his ACL in December.
Maxwell absorbed the experience and was a large part of the Tigers’ comeback effort in the state title game that saw them rally from a seven-point deficit with under three minutes left.
“I don’t think we’ve grown as a team but I think some individuals have really grown,” Olson said. ” If you can grade them like they do draft classes I really feel like Ammar (Maxwell) has a really high passing grade for the summer. Individually he’s really improved his game and some others are where they were in the middle of the season last year and they’re going to have to improve if they want to play because guys that were used to playing minutes last year aren’t going to play the same amount.
“We have a lot more guys that can play so we’re going to go eight or nine deep and I plan to use that to our advantage this year. But I think Ammar and Sam (Jordan) have really improved. As a team we haven’t improved much but individually a lot of kids have sharpened their craft.”
In the lead up to the season progression and improvement will be key. While the rising senior class has been a large part of the Tigers’ success and why they’ll enter the season as a favorite to win it all again, it isn’t Olson’s nature to just hand out playing time that isn’t earned.
Complicating the matter is the coach’s belief that he’ll be deeper than he’s been with the ability to rotate nine kids without much drop-off. Some of that stems from improvement he’s seen this offseason while the return of two players that were injured last season also plays a role.
“It’s something I wanted to do last year but Jack (Williams) and Brady (Green) were hurt,” Olson said of utilizing his bench. “Subbing in some of the younger guys, there wasn’t a huge drop-off but I think when you put Jack and Brady in it’s going to be a big difference. Nobody’s going to be tired and nobody is going to be fatigued and I think the way we approach the game on both ends is going to be a lot different because we can play five guards next year where you can’t come off of one.
“We’re going to truly be able to drive and kick people and you can’t cheat us and come off maybe as much as Fairmont did in the state championship game. Now there’s time’s we’re going to have to go with big lineups but we’re going to be able to go with a lot more guards at the same time this year.”