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Competitive preseason camp should pay dividends for Cougars
by Dan Eckles
Dec 02, 2013 | 1149 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - SSHS senior guard Kenny Meyer knocks down a few free throws during a Cougars workout last week.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - SSHS senior guard Kenny Meyer knocks down a few free throws during a Cougars workout last week.
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Tribune photo by John Byrne - Hunter Fralick waits for a play to develop while running the Spanish Springs offense during a recent team practice.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Hunter Fralick waits for a play to develop while running the Spanish Springs offense during a recent team practice.
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Spanish Springs boys basketball coach Kyle Penney has a reputation for getting his athletes to play really hard and getting the most basketball production possible from his talent pool. So not surprisingly, improving competitiveness and mental toughness have been key themes during the Cougars' first two weeks of practice.

And that's not because the SSHS roster is soft, in fact far from it. Still, when your program's philosophy is built on out-working your opponent, those areas are important to touch on, over and over again.

"First off, this is a great bunch of kids," Penney said. "We kept 11 kids and they are kids you want to be around every day. We feel like we can put any of the 11 kids on the court at any time and still be really competitive. These kids will have to compete for spots and earn time. That is going to be an advantage for us.

"We've changed the lineups everyday in practice. We're able to mix it up. I'm happy with guys at different spots and that will be good for us in the long run. We've got a league game creeping up on Tuesday and we're not sure who will start yet. That's a good thing. These kids are competing and working hard."

Spanish Springs opens its 2013-14 season Tuesday on the road at Douglas. The Tigers are the defending Sierra League champion. The season debut for both teams has a lot on the line as it's also a DI North crossover league contest.

"I'm not a fan of it being a league game just because it could matter at some point," Penney said. "It's a big game, down there, on the road and our first game out of the shoot. With it being the first game, there's no earlier games where you can learn from your mistakes. We can't afford to make many mistakes. We have to make sure we've got a good base and fundamentals. We'll go from there."

The Cougars return six seniors off of last year's HDL runner-up team that went 15-11. Sharpshooting guard Kenny Meyer, a first-team High Desert League all star last winter, leads the way. Also back for the Cougars are Hunter Fralick, Hunter Pinto, Garrett Nauman, Dupree Kness and Jake Longero, a varsity player for the SSHS cagers as a freshman and sophomore before opting not to play as a junior.

"Intensity and mental preparation have been big things in our first practices," Fralick said. "We'll have to get after it this year. That's what we've been focusing on lately. Basketball is a sport where you cannot take any time off -- or the other team goes on a 6-0 run on you. We're going to outwork the other team.

"We're returning six guys so we have some depth and the new guys are looking pretty good. I'm excited ... We're all looking forward to playing someone in a different colored jersey."

Penney believes that returning contingent should provide great leadership and set the tone for the newcomers.

"I think we're going to be really scrappy and tough," the Cougars' seventh-year coach said. "We're not there yet, but we have the six seniors who have all been in the program and all played significant varsity minutes. We should have good leadership. Defensively, we should be really solid, and obviously with six seniors knowing the system, we should take care of the ball. If you can play good defense and take care of the ball, you should be good. We'll see if we have buy-in and the kids have to understand how hard they have to work for that to happen."

While Penney thinks he knows what areas will be strengths. He's also pretty sure what area could be a weakness. Cougars teams of recent years have struggled to handle defensive pressure and that's led to scoring droughts in big games against quality opponents. The SSHS coach would like to believe this team will be better in that area but he said it must prove that.

"We have to be able to handle pressure," Penney said. "We need some game experience for the younger kids. They need to experience what life on varsity is like and what a league game is like, how important they all are. Being able to take care of the ball should be a strength for us, but at the same time, we still have to prove it. We haven't necessarily done a good job of that in the past. It's been a program thing that we need to get better at."

December won't be easy for Spanish Springs. The Cougars have six league games before Christmas. In addition to catching Douglas early, Spanish Springs also goes to Reno, a team many believe will compete for a High Desert League crown.

Additionally, the Cougars will also compete in traditionally tough California tournaments -- in Napa, Chico and San Diego.

"This is the toughest schedule we've ever played," Penney said. "We're going to find out how good we are. We've got a brutal schedule. There are no easy games on there. We've got 16 league games and three tournament schedules lined up. It will be nice in terms of getting good competition.

"We're not going to have an easy night out. It may not reflect well on our record early on, but in terms of coming back after Christmas break, we should be pretty ready to finish out that league season."

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