By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 28, 2016) — Stephenville climbed three spots to No. 9 in the latest Texas Association of Basketball Coaches 4A girls rankings.
It’s not the first time an Allen Thorpe-coached Honeybee club has reached the top 10 in one of the state’s two widely publicized polls, and this year’s club is in highly ranked for the same reason his past Stephenville teams have been – defense.
The Honeybees started the year at No. 14, moved to No. 12 and are now at No. 9 thanks to a 4-0 start that includes victories over 6A Keller Fossil Ridge and 5A Granbury. Next up is another tough test in 5A Aledo, with tipoff coming about 6:15 p.m. Tuesday following a 5 p.m. junior varsity game at Gandy Gym.
“They are probably going to be the best team we’ve seen so far. They’ve had a few kids hurt and I’m not sure who all they’re getting back following the Thanksgiving break,” said Thorpe. “If they have everyone, then yes, it will definitely be the best team we have seen.”
Not knowing what Aledo will have as far as personnel makes it easy for Thorpe to put his focus where he would rather have it any way – on his own team.
“We’re just going to focus on being us, and that’s playing good defense and hoping that doing so will generate some easy offense,” said Thorpe.
Sounds simple enough, but it’s a formula for success few programs have been able to replicate as effectively as Thorpe and his staff have at Stephenville. Thorpe’s second stint in Stephenville – he experienced success with the Honeybees before brief stints at Burnet and Justin Northwest then returned to the place he calls “home” – began eight years ago and the Honeybees have won seven consecutive area titles and been to a pair of regional tournaments.
This Honeybee team is allowing just 39.3 points per game, but tell that to Thorpe and he immediately responds, “Too many, that’s too many. We have to work harder.”
What, then, is the target number?
“Well, sure, we feel like if we hold teams to 40 points we should beat them, but our goal is to hold them to 30,” said Thorpe. “That sounds tough, but you look at the best teams out there, and that’s what they do. Even more than being able to score points, it’s the way they keep people from scoring that is the most common similarity you see out there.”
He’s right – Brock, Canyon, Amarillo, the list goes on. They are all built on defense. Not just good defense. Great defense. Suffocating, hard to get a shot off at all type defense.
And by-and-large, man-to-man defense.
“I like staying in man defense because I feel like when you get into a zone there is a tendency to relax a little more,” he said. “I’m not saying I haven’t seen some teams run great zone defenses, but you have to keep the same intensity as you have in man-to-man.
“Defense is an attitude. It’s heart and effort,” Thorpe said. “You can have a bad offensive game if your shots aren’t falling, but you should never have a bad defensive game. If you have a bad defensive game that means you didn’t work hard enough and that’s just not acceptable.”
Thorpe has coached his share of great defenders at Stephenville. While the names below are far from a comprehensive list, they are examples, right off the top of the coach’s head, of some of the great defenders on his recent Honeybee teams.
“Leslie Billings really stands out to me because she was a tenacious defensive player who would do things to irritate players and never took a possession off,” he said. “She just worked as hard as possible for the entire 32 minutes.
“Sheridan Stokes was a great defender, and Lariat Larner was one of the best anticipators we’ve had,” Thorpe continued. “Bayleigh Chaviers and Cassidy Cline off some of our most recent teams were both great defensively. Some of those girls, especially Leslie and Bayleigh, their number one job was to guard the other team’s best offensive player, and their ability to do that effectively is one of the primary reasons we’ve achieved what success we have.”
And while everyone looks at defense as a way to keep points off the opponent’s side of the scoreboard, defensive-minded coaches like Thorpe take it a step further, viewing defense as a catalyst for easy offense.
“That’s one of the big things we’re looking for with our pressure style of defense, is to create turnovers and opportunities for easy baskets,” Thorpe said. “You may not always have outstanding shooters and scorers, but if you create easy baskets defensively, you can still score enough points to be successful.”
Especially because creating one’s own offensive opportunities with defense goes hand in hand with limiting an opponent’s opportunities at good shots.
“Even when our pressure doesn’t cause turnovers, it can still be effective because we can be just as intense in the half court and make them have to move the ball around more than they are used to,” said Thorpe. “Most teams offensively won’t play past three passes. Usually, when we make them pass the ball more than three times, they get anxious and turn the ball over or take a bad shot.
“It’s all about making them play out of their comfort zone.”
It’s something Thorpe’s clubs have done like few others. That’s why they are one of the few programs anywhere in Texas that can boast advancing at least three rounds deep in the state playoffs each of the last seven years.
It’s also why this year’s group, with fleet-footed defensive-minded guard Hailey Martin among others, still undefeated.
“Really great offensive players are hard to find, they are few and far between,” said Thorpe. “You can go your whole career and maybe not coach a truly dominant offensive player that nobody can stop.
“But you can always be good defensively. If you can get your team to work hard and play great defense, you can play with just about anybody.”