Youth aside, there’s no slowing down for Lipan
As the cliche goes, Lipan basketball doesn’t rebuild – it reloads.
But if the Indians are to once again challenge for a state title, they’re going to do so by relying on one of the youngest teams in the region.
Just two varsity players return from last year’s team that went 35-3 and made the regional final. Those players are junior guard Trent Harrison and senior post Hatcher Heavyside.
Deadeye three-point shooter Layton Sharp graduated, as did do-it-all forward Bryce Shockley and starting center Josh Boucher. Starting point guard Hayden Hightower was a junior last year, but he moved out of state over the summer.
Still, the Indians aren’t using youth as an excuse.
“Our players change each year, but our expectations remain the same,” Lipan head coach Brent Gaylor said. “We are going to work hard, play good defense and play great as at team.
“Our plan is to make it back to the regional tournament and then see what happens.”
The freshmen might be in their first year on varsity, but they’ve been steeped in Li-pan basketball culture. Tripp Phillips is the brother of Ty and Tate Phillips, who were on state title teams, and Tate Branson is the son of Lipan girls coach Amber Branson.
All that basketball tradition means the freshmen are a few steps ahead of where one might expect.
“The freshmen now, compared to when I was a freshman, are way better than me,” Harrison said. “They’re more confident in themselves than I was as a freshman.
“It just all comes naturally to these boys.”
Harrison and Heavyside have also spent their entire careers in the Lipan program. Heavyside is now in his first year as a starter, and it’s been a long journey for him.
“It’s not just getting in the gym and shooting. You have to chart results and you have to set goals for yourself as you go,” he said of his summer woorkout routine. “I just try do 1,000 makes a day.”
Heavyside tore his MCL last year before the season, but is now fully healthy. He’s more of a finesse player compared to last year’s starter Boucher, but has worked hard to build his physique.
Heavyside still remembers fighting his way up to the varsity from the freshman and junior varisty teams.
“There was a challenge set for me, like, ‘Hey, how can I get better?’” he said. “‘I know I’m already highly skilled, but how can I get better?’”
“And that for me was hitting the weights hard.”
While the fundamentals of traditional Lipan basketball are still the same – tenacious defense combined with sharp-shooting offense – the 2019-20 version of the Indians will do things a bit differently.
Lipan won’t press as much this year, and will play more zone defense. The Indians will also slow down the pace from last season’s frenetic attack.
Harrison compared their plans to the 2014 San Antonio Spurs team that won the NBA title – constant ball movement on offense, with each player being involved on each possession.
That style of attack is proof that the Indians trust their young freshmen and trust Harrison and Heavyside to help lead them.
Slidell and Graford are the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state, respectively, and both are in Region III-1A with Lipan. Making the regional tournament means playing one or both of those teams for a trip to the state title.
Lipan starts its season with a home game against Ector on Nov. 16.
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