Schreiber brings a new face and new schemes to the SHS program, but that’s the extent of a fresh start. He does not have to change the culture. The Sparks kids know how to work hard and they know how to win.
Sparks won the 3A state title two years ago and has three state tourney appearances in the past four years. The only year in that stretch that Sparks missed out on a state berth (2009), it still had a highly successful season, earning a top seed into the Northern 3A regional before getting upset there.
“I’ll be the first to tell you I inherited a great program,” Schreiber said. “These kids have been taught basketball since a young age. I’ve fallen into a great situation. Any smart coach would make that assessment.”
Sparks High announced Schreiber’s hiring in late July. The Bay Area native coached at Incline High from 1997-2010. He took the Highlanders to the postseason every year during that stretch and won three regional crowns and a state title in 2010.
After taking last winter off from coaching, the veteran coach is anxious to get back on the court for a new season, especially after working with Sparks players over the past three months during non-mandatory practices. Official winter practices began Nov. 12 and Schreiber likes what he’s seen so far.
“I feel really good about the first week and a half,” Schreiber said. “We’re getting a lot accomplished ... The kids catch on quick. I’m excited about this team. The basketball IQ is pretty high. I teach something once, maybe twice and it’s there. That’s very nice to see.”
Schreiber’s body language backs up his words. It doesn’t take much to see the Railroaders’ first-year coach is jubilant about a new opportunity. His eyes brighten and there’s an ecstatic tone in his voice as he talks Railroaders’ basketball.
But what kind of game does he want his squad to play?
“Our intent is to play an up-and-down game,” Schreiber said. “We should be pretty deep and we want to utilize the number of kids we have that can play. We’ve also worked a lot on dead-ball scenarios so we can control every possession.”
In basketball, maybe more than other sports, conditioning is a key component to practice, specifically in the early going of the season. Schreiber’s preseason camp certainly has not been the exception to that rule. Railroaders athletes have been busy in practices getting in the best shape they’ve been in, probably since last winter.
“We have been spending a lot time conditioning, but much of what we do has a meaning in the end,” Schreiber said. “We have a lot of up-tempo basketball drills, but we’re also getting conditioning out of them. Basketball is a conditioning sport and for a team like us, we want to run.”
The Sparks coach believes his team has definite strengths. He was quick to point out his club should have superior athleticism against many league foes, but added the team strengths go beyond that.
“Outside of running and our physical strength, I think we’ve got an ability to penetrate,” Schreiber said. “We’ve got a lot of kids who can attack the rim off the dribble. That will be an issue for other teams to stop.”
While the long-time coach likes what he sees in the early-season practices, he also knows the club is far from perfect and sees areas where his players need to sharpen up a bit.
“We need to work on the who, when and where,” Schreiber said. “We don’t have a go-to kid. We can learn to be more patient and make a team play defense before we just jack it up. We want to take smart shots. There’s no shot clock. We’re talented. Let’s make a defense pay for that.”
Sparks will scrimmage Saturday and then the Railroaders open their winter campaign with a non-league home game against Lassen of Susanville. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“The scrimmage and game will be great,” Schreiber said. “Being practice ready and being game ready are two different things. I’m hoping our preseason opponents will exploit our weaknesses. That way we can work on them and hopefully limit our weaknesses when league play comes along.”
Sparks returns seven players from last season’s state semifinalist squad. Senior Xavier Rodriguez is back after being named a first-team all-league pick last season. Junior Darius Devine and senior Erik Garcia both return as well after earning all-league second-team and honorable mention awards respectively a year ago. The other SHS returners are Brian Morgan, CJ Sampong, Pedro Villes and Barry Bow.
“I’m excited for this year,” Garcia said. “I feel like we should have a good year. We’ve got a lot of talent. Coach has a different way of training but he knows what he’s doing. He sees a lot in us and he’s pushing us to our limits.”