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Tigers’ run fueled by team play

by Chuck Smock

One Team. One Goal.

That was the Douglas Tigers’ motto for the 1998-99 season.

When Keith Lewis’ team took the court with that mindset, the Tigers were practically unbeatable. When they abandoned the team concept, they were pretty average.

“I think, when we chose to play together and be unselfish and were just concerned about winning the game, we played very well,” Lewis said. “When we started worrying about stats, we showed that basketball is a team sport and that an individual doesn’t win a game.”

The Tigers finished 15-13 overall and 6-6 in Division II play in Lewis’ first year as head coach. They tied with Carson for fourth place in the division, but the Senators owned the tie-breaking advantage and advanced to the zone playoffs.

While expectations around the league might have projected the Tigers for a middle-of-the-pack finish, the Douglas boys worked hard to put themselves in a position to be the surprise of the season.

With two games left to play, the Tigers were tied for second place in the division standings and could have locked up sole possession of second by winning out.

Back-to-back losses to Wooster and Reno bumped Douglas out of the playoffs, however.

“I thought it was a decent season,” Lewis said. “Our goal was to advance to state and possibly play for a zone championship. When you don’t put yourself in a position to reach your goals, there obviously is some disappointment.

“At times we played very, very well. Ultimately, as a coach or a player, you are measured on you successes. And I don’t think anyone on the team will tell you we reached where we wanted to be.”

The Tigers were up and down early in the season. They won the Fernley Tournament, against 3A competition, in early December and went 2-2 to take sixth place in the Rail City Classic later in the month.

Douglas then opened league play with losses to Wooster and South Tahoe. With Carson up next, the Tigers faced the possibility of a disastrous 0-3 start.

And then the Douglas boys remembered the words on the backs of their practice jerseys.

The night before the game with Carson, the Tigers held a players’-only, closed-door meeting to make sure, in fact, that they were one team with one goal.

“Everybody aired it out,” senior Bruce Jacobsen said. “The general mood was everybody thought we needed to play together and be a team.

“Earlier in the season, everybody wanted to do their own thing, but we realized we needed to play as a team.”

The results were stunning. The Tigers went to Carson City and defeated the Senators on their home floor for the first time since 1985.

“It was absolutely awesome,” Jacobsen said. “All of our fans rushed the floor and everyone was hugging each other. I was hugging people I didn’t even know. It was awesome.

“We proved to ourselves if we play as a team we can play with anybody. We played as a team more than we had all season. That’s what we’d been lacking.”

The victory over Carson started a four-game winning streak that vaulted the Tigers back into the playoff race.

Douglas lost its second game against South Tahoe, but the Tigers played much better against the Vikings than they did in the first meeting.

Lewis and his squad were then geared up for a pair of weekend home games against Carson and Wooster, when their season – as well as their momentum – was put on hold when school officials were forced to postpone the two games because of a problem with the ventilation system in the DHS gym.

The postponement meant the Tigers would have to play six games in the final 11 days of the regular season. And, more importantly, it pushed back the meeting with a struggling Wooster team that had lost five league games in a row after a 4-0 start.

Carson and Wooster swept the makeup games on consecutive Wednesdays. The Tigers could have clinched a playoff spot by beating Reno in the final game of league play, but lost by 20 points to a team they had beaten by 11 points three weeks earlier.

Douglas was led by a group of seniors that will be hard to replace.

Forwards Jimmy Coyne and Bruce Jacobsen could light it up on the offensive end of the court, and both played tough defense.

Point guard John Dunbar did a great job running the offense and was a team leader on and off the court.

Forward Greg Bodenstein dominated taller opponents in the paint and was a rebounding force for the Tigers.

And centers Adam Moore and Matt Thomas gave Lewis depth and scoring punch off the bench.

“I’m going to miss this group,” the coach said. “There’s no doubt we’re going to miss them on the court next year.”

Junior guard Kyle Baker used hard work and intensity on the court to earn a starting position midway through the season.

Sophomore guard Tim McDonnell also played well down the stretch and gained valuable game experience.

“It was a good first year as a coach,” Lewis said. “I had a lot of help. (Assistant coaches) JoJo (Townsell), Kurt (Lundergreen), Phil (Emm) and Craig (Kizer) made my job a lot easier. I felt very lucky to have the coaching staff I had.

“And I’m proud of the kids. We created a very disciplined environment and demanded that the kids be very disciplined on and off the floor. I thought they responded very well. The thing I admired most is they understood there were consequences (for their behavior) and they never questioned it. They accepted the consequences like men, and that’s a life lesson.”