The memories motivate even during the most mundane moments in a long regular season. Recollections of turnovers, frustration and three shots at a victory in the final 30 seconds — all three misses.
Those images from a 70-69 loss to Laredo Nixon last season in the fourth round of the Class 5A playoffs still linger with LBJ boys basketball coach Freddie Roland. They also help Roland and the state-ranked Jaguars (13-4) retain their focus while racing past their District 25-5A opponents.
“Last year, we had an opportunity to get to the final four (in Class 5A), and we threw the ball away quite a bit,” Roland said Tuesday after a 64-33 romp past visiting Travis. “In a one-point loss, that hurt.
“So I build it (district play) up a little bit. I’ll say thing like, ‘Hey, guys, if we don’t work harder, we’re going to get blown out of the gym.’ And they take that as a challenge.”
So far this season, LBJ has responded to almost every challenge while rising to No. 4 in the Class 5A state poll compiled by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. The Jaguars, who face Crockett on Friday in a 25-5A contest, boast a four-game winning streak that includes impressive non-district wins over Arlington Lamar and Bowie as well as a pair of blowout victories against district rivals Austin High and Travis.
“We know some teams (in 25-5A) may not be as good as us, but we still have to run our offense and play with confidence in our offense,” said 6-foot-3 senior forward Allie Green, who leads LBJ with 11.9 points and 9.7 rebounds a game. “We know there are better games that we will have to play. Coach tells us just to go game by game, because we know that when we get to the playoffs, those teams are going to come at us.”
Roland’s message resonates with the LBJ players, who were in elementary school in 2009 when the Jaguars last lost a district game.
“Coach will stay on us, because that’s our biggest problem: We have to stay focused on every team and all the competition,” said Shasirae Harvey, a junior point guard who has played for LBJ’s varsity since he was a freshman. “We treat each week as a new challenge”
Harvey and his teammates remember what happened against Laredo Nixon last season. The tenacious Nixon team played a high-tempo, pressure-based style that rattled a Jaguars team used to district rivals that regularly resorted to zone defenses.
“We’re more focused in practice,” Harvey said. “Coach keeps telling us that if we’re not focused in practice, nothing good will come to us in games. I think that’s what happened last year (against Nixon).”
A gifted creator, the 5-11 Harvey can slice into the lane and he’s never shied away from taking a big shot. Last season, he scored at the fourth-quarter buzzer to force overtime in an eventual 64-58 playoff victory over Vista Ridge that sent LBJ to the regional semifinals for the first time since the Jagaurs’ run to the state tournament in 2009.
This year, Roland has pushed Harvey to become more of a playmaker for his teammates.
“Basically, I took the ball out of my point guard’s hands, and he’s been a little frustrated by it,” Roland said. “I told him to get everybody else around you better. Then when we have to have it, we’ll let you do what you need to do.
“I’m trying to make him a true point guard so he can get a decent scholarship when that time comes. Coaches will be looking for a guy that can run the team but still score. I think he’s starting to understand that now.”
Harvey, who has averaged 11.8 points and 5.0 rebounds this season, has accepted his increased responsibilities. His 7.2 assists per game has helped make LBJ a balanced squad that has five players averaging 10 points or higher.
“ I’ve been letting everybody else do their thing,” Harvey said. “Everybody is sharing the ball. We’re all on the same page the majority of the time.”
And the Jaguars are focused on getting to the state tournament for the fourth time in Roland’s successful tenure.
“We were supposed to be there last year, so we’re going to get to that state tournament,” Green said. “We all share the ball, and we all have fun. Even when it’s serious, we’re having fun. And we get the job done while we’re doing it.”