Panthers shooting for turnaround season

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Danny Summers
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WOODLAND PARK - Something strange occurred at Woodland Park’s boys basketball practice on Nov. 19.

“We were allowed to shoot a ball for the first time today,” said senior 6-foot-2 forward Jacob Censner. “We’ve been out here for two weeks and we’ve done a lot of conditioning, but we haven’t played with a real basketball until today.”

The brainchild of Woodland Park’s new reality is Joel Herman. The first-year coach is old school. He is instilling the basics of the game - and his system - before any sort of high-flying act occurs.

“There’s a different intensity level at my practices,” said Herman, who took over the program at the beginning of the summer. “I’m asking the boys to increase their performance every day. Put in a hard two hours every day.”

Herman replaces long-time Panthers coach Brian Gustafson. The former coach and athletic director stepped down last spring so that he could focus on his administrative career with the district.

The program has found victories to be few and far between in recent years. In fact, Panthers teams were a combined 6-59 the previous three seasons.

“I don’t worry about what has happened in the past,” Herman said. “I’m asking the kids to change their mentality of basketball around here. We have a lot of work to do in terms of changing our mentality. I’m not looking for mediocrity. I’m looking for guys to step up.

“We can’t out jump some of the team’s in the Springs, but I think we can take advantage of our altitude. We can be in better condition and better shape.”

The situation is not as bleak as it appears. There are four players (all seniors) on the team with at least two years of varsity experience - Censner, 6-1 guard Evan Lays, 5-10 guard Mark Cannella and 6-1 forward Josh Stover.

“The mindset around here has changed,” Censner said. “We’re going to be in the best shape of our lives. Our effort is going to be out the roof.”

Herman’s son, Dakota - a 6-1 sophomore swingman - is expected to fill the other starting spot.

“We want to be able to control the tempo,” Dakota Herman said. “We can do that if we all work together.”

Other key members of the team are 6-6 junior transfer Grady Thayer, senior swingman Cody Westfall, senior forward Ryan Crouse, senior guard Nate Longoria, junior guard Cody Hedges and sophomore forward Sam Hopfe.

“Sam is very athletic,” Joel Herman said. “He’s very long. Grady has a lot of work to do this year. Cody is going to bring a lot to our team.”

His not set on his rotation, but he does envision using a platoon system.

“We might four or five kids for four minutes, and then put in another four or five kids for four minutes,” Herman said. “We’re just hoping the kids will be patient.”

Herman’s top varsity assistant is Tim Ibarra. The junior varsity team is coached by Brandon Hansen, while Joe Roskam (the head football coach) is in charge of the C squad.

“Joe brings great intensity; great enthusiasm,” Herman said. “And our C squad is made up of all freshmen.”