Only one opponent stands between the Wheelersburg Pirates and back-to-back district title wins: Albany Alexander. Before the Pirates travel to Athens to face the Spartans in their fourth district title game since Steven Ater became the coach six seasons ago, our staff sat down with Ater to discuss how the Pirates are handling the moment before them.
Q: You’re playing your fourth district final game since you took the job six years ago. What does it take to build the program you all have built here and to win at the level you have?
A. It takes having a strong program with good athletes who are committed to the sacrifices necessary to improve as a player both individually and and as a team. Our players have put in time on their own and with the coaching staff to improve our skill and basketball IQ. We spend the summers competing across the state, trying to challenge our players with some of the best competition that we can find outside of our own area. We want to be experienced playing the type of competition that a team will see at these levels of the tournament.
Q. You guys have shot the ball really well all season, at incredibly efficient rates. In your two postseason games, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. Do you expect the shots to start falling sooner rather than later?
A. We have had some really good scoring games this season and have been very efficient on offense largely because we have not settled for bad shots and have been very unselfish about passing up good shots for even better ones. We run very well in transition and try to use that to trigger our offense and start getting easy looks before the defense sets up. Our coaches are very confident in our players’ abilities to shoot the ball and expect shots to fall as long as we continue hunting great shots.
Q. Even though the shots haven’t necessarily fallen these last two games, you all are still playing at a very high level. What does that say about you and your team’s willingness to adjust to the situation they’re presented with in-game?
A. I think that can be attributed to our team’s experience in these type of games, never really getting rattled or give in to the pressure of the situation. The players have really improved individually and as a team on the defensive end so that we are confident on both ends of the floor. We believe we have good enough players that if we work to get stops on the defensive end then that will open up opportunities for us in transition or that we will score enough in the half court to have an opportunity to win the game.
Q: Alexander has Caleb Terry who’s a force in the paint because of his size, how do you all game plan for the tallest player you’ve faced this season?
A. Terry is a very skilled player with great size and will definitely alter or block shots around the rim – plus Alexander has been playing through him on offense and they have some really good players around him. Their PG is a very good shooter off the bounce and they have wings who are great catch and shoot players but can also put it on the ground and drive you to the rim. Terry’s impact can be found on the block where he can score over either shoulder, step out and hit the 3, or grab an offensive rebound over top of a smaller player. We will have to be very sound in our 1 on 1 battles to pressure the ball while containing the dribble, contest passing lanes to make post catches tougher, and then box them out and limit them to just one shot. They are too talented to give them multiple looks at the basket in a possession.
Q: What will it take from your guys on Saturday to walk away with back-to-back district titles?
A. To beat a really good Alexander teanm we are going to have to be disciplined on both ends, take away easy looks from them and turn stops into transition so we can get great looks on offense. They will try to be physical, throw some traps at us and maybe even some junk defense to disrupt our rhythm or what we call our flow and we have to make adjustments on the fly and be prepared to just go play basketball.