|G. Michael Graham Photo. First-year Highlands boys basketball Head Coach Kevin Listerman watches during practice Wednesday. Listerman takes over a team that finished 12-18 last year.|
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The first year in a coaching era starts with setting the foundation.
New Highlands Bluebirds boys basketball Head Coach Kevin Listerman and staff hope to do that and more this year. Highlands hired Listerman after four-year Head Coach Mike Flynn resigned after the Bluebirds finished 12-18 and lost 48-37 to Newport Central Catholic in the 36th District semifinals last year.
The Bluebirds just had their first full practice together Monday. The football players joined the team following another deep run in the playoffs.
“Our kids have been very excited from the first day,” Listerman said. “Going back to the spring and this fall, we were able to get some workouts in on Sundays. The kids showed up and really did a good job working. For being our first three days, we have had three really good days (Monday through Wednesday). We’ve asked a lot of the kids and they’ve done a really good job of trying to take what we’re saying and put it on the floor.”
Highlands graduated four players off last year’s team in Jake Gronotte, Luke Turner, Karl Hinkel and Bailey Witte. Turner averaged 11.3 points per game.
Several other players decided not to come back this year such as Jensen Feggins and Nick True. The 6-foot-6-inch True led the team averaging six rebounds a contest.
Shooting hurt the Bluebirds last year. They made just 478-of-1,283 for 37 percent including 100-of-345 for 29 percent from three-point range. They also hit just 285-of-453 from the free-throw line for 63 percent. Listerman wants to see those percentages increase to the upper 40s in field-goal percentage, 35-40 from three-point range and 75 percent at the free-throw line.
“You are either good shooters or you’re not,” Listerman said. “We have spent time in the gym working on shooting and all of our skill work, but when it comes time for the game, players have to make plays. We have a very good group of seniors and it’s time for them to step up and make plays.”
Those seniors are guards Drew Houliston, Brendan Buten, Ryan Greene, Luke Brockett and forward Brandon Hergott. Houliston tied Turner averaging 11.3 points per game last year.
Listerman said the Bluebirds will be outsized pretty much every game. That’s where players like Hergott, junior forwards Parker Harris, Kenny Ball and sophomore Bo Hebel need to hold their ground in the paint.
“It takes more discipline,” Harris said. “It will be even more important to be in the right position. Everything is more detail-oriented as far as what you have to do on the ball and off the ball.”
The Bluebirds do have quickness and they plan to get up and down the floor the entire game offensively. Players like junior guard Justin Weyer and sophomores Nick Kendall and Mitchell Cain could also play a huge role in that.
“It’s about playing under control and not letting (opponents) speed you up,” Buten said. “You have to play smart and make the right reads. We work hard on (the up-tempo game) every day.”
Highlands will employ different strategies game-to-game. But Listerman said the Bluebirds will play more man-to-man defenses than zone concepts.
Listerman knew about the challenges of coaching at a school that has won 22 state football championships. But he said it is possible to eventuallysee a return to the days where the Bluebirds dominated the 9th Region. They won four region crowns between 1997 and 2001 and finished state runner-up in 1997.
“I think this community wants everything at Highlands to be successful,” Listerman said. “I believe that our kids have put in the time and if they continue to work, the success will come. What we probably won’t see is a lot of early-season success because behind significantly where other teams are. Basketball, like football, soccer and baseball, is all about what you do in the postseason. Our focus is going to be building toward being the best that we can be at the end of February and early March.”
Highlands opened the season Friday with a 58-44 loss at St. Henry. Buten, Harris and Hergott led Highlands with 10 points each. Jordan Noble and Nick Rechtin led the Crusaders with 13 each.
The Bluebirds play their first home game tonight against 0-4 Walton-Verona. Game time is 7:30 p.m.