WHEELERSBURG - Three days before Wheelersburg faces its toughest task yet, Pirate players run up and down the court during drills. Shooting and getting out in transition are the focus as practice comes to an end.
The players don't look tired or antsy. They don't seem excited or nervous. They're focused and attentive to what Pirates coach Tom Barrick has to say.
Barrick, the Division III Southeast District co-Coach of the Year, has led the Pirates to a 255-57 record since arriving in Wheelersburg for an 81.7 winning percentage and he knows his team faces a tough opponent on Thursday against North College Hill.
“They're very unique in their style because they're such an athletic team and they are very fast in transition and they can shoot the 3,” Barrick said. “We probably will have to be a little conscious of not getting reckless in transition because they are probably the best team we've faced to date as far as converting turnovers into points.”
Barrick's task isn't so much finding a way to stop the Trojans' offense and score on their defense. By now, Wheelersburg's athletes know what it takes to win once the whistle blows. Instead, Barrick's job is to guide the team through a myriad of distractions and help the Pirates prepare.
“There are a ton of distractions,” said Barrick. “Everything from ticket requests, to media, to everything. So you really have to try to guide the kids as far as the excitement in the tournament and keep distractions to a minimum and focus on the task at hand and that's trying to go up there and win a basketball game on Thursday.”
Wheelersburg has canceled school Thursday to allow students to attend the game and expectations among the Pirates' classmates run high. While the community may be thinking ahead to Saturday's state title game, Barrick is keeping his team focused on North College Hill.
The Trojans have junior guard Damon Butler (20.2ppg) and 6-foot-4 junior forward Alfonso McPherson (11.8ppg) on the roster and have the benefit of being the two-time defending state champions.
With the Trojans being the last stop before a state championship game, one would think state title glory is on the Pirates' minds but Barrick said there has been no discussion of anything past Thursday.
“Our sole goal, only goal is to try and win Thursday's ball game,” said Barrick. “After we meet that goal, we'll set another goal.”
It's important for a coach to keep things in perspective during what can be a very exciting time for a student athlete.
“Every school age child's dream is to get a chance to play at Ohio State University, at the Schott in the Final Four,” said Barrick. “As far as motivational things to get ready, you don't have to. It's not an issue of trying to amp your team up. To get a chance to play in the Final Four, the thing that you really have to guide your kids through is the preparation.”
The Pirates' preparation will include one easy part. Since they have been this far before, Barrick said it helps that his team knows what doors to go in and knows where the locker rooms are at OSU. The nervous energy spent by teams new to the state tournament on trying to figure that information out can be put into preparation.
As far as the X's and O's go, Barrick didn't reveal anything fancy. To win during tournament time, Barrick has said all along that a team must defend, rebound, and take care of the ball.
If the Pirates do those three things, Barrick could lead the Pirates' ship into the rare seas of the state title game.
JOHN STEGEMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org