Another good season, complete with 17 wins and an undefeated league title, came to an end short of the state tournament for Derby.
It’s a troubling trend to Brett Flory, one that he wants to end in his second season after a realization.
“We feel like we can probably score on anyone, but against the really good teams that we have to beat to get there scoring isn’t going to come easy,” Flory said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to have to really defend at a high level.”
Derby’s offense, minus the graduated Kyler Steadman, should still be potent as the focal point shifts to 6-foot-6 athletic big man Josiah Ray.
“In the halfcourt, we want to play through Josiah,” Flory said. “He’s a force inside and when he’s getting touches then our shooters will be getting open shots.”
Taylor Schieber and Tyler Chambers will do plenty of scoring from the perimeter, and the Panthers will turn over their offense to the talented sophomore Papi Conley.
But Derby doesn’t want to be another high-scoring team that is fun to watch but can’t win the big game.
This is a team capable of breaking through the mental barrier at Derby and ascending to the state tournament, but its fate rests in its defense.
“We have to create offense through our defense,” Flory said. “We’re talking a lot about running and a lot about pressing. Our kids are pretty good at those things. The key for us will be how well we can defend.”
For the size of Derby, it is astonishing to Caleb Smith that basketball hasn’t attracted more girls to the program.
Smith noticed how the communities of McPherson and Salina embraced the game and the success that followed. So when Smith was hired, his first move was a no-brainer.
“I created a K-12 program and tried to make it a priority in the town again,” Smith said. “I think it used to be that way, but we have to get back to having girls grow up with basketball as their first love. We’re such a big school, we should be good every year and it hasn’t been that way.”
He may not have to wait on the pipeline to develop, as Smith returns foundation pieces in senior post Alyxis Bowens and junior point guard Madi Greenwood.
“I don’t think talent is going to be an issue this year,” Smith said.
The issue, at least in recent history, has been keeping up with the fast-paced offenses in league play. Derby won’t find much luck in trying to play in those type of games, so Smith wants his squad to clamp down and try to win games in the halfcourt.
The program has won six games the last three seasons, so Smith stressed the importance of learning the process of winning.
“It’s just something that comes through hard work,” he said. “As soon as they see the benefits of the hard work they put in this offseason, they’re going to gain confidence. It will be like baby steps, but I think we’ll get there.”
November — Friday, Manhattan.