Basketball is supposed to be enjoyable. It’s a game; games are fun. Sometimes that gets lost along the way.
It’s easy to have fun when you’re winning, but staying positive and holding a smile can be critical to lifting a team up when things are down.
For the Francis Scott Key girls basketball team, remembering the joy of the game has been a catalyst for its five-game winning streak.
“The last two years we had a lot of growing pains within the county,” Eagles coach TJ Develin said. “Sometimes you get so caught up with the winning and losing, the joy of playing basketball kind of hits the backburner. You forget why you’re even there. You focus so much on the result versus going out and having fun, playing as a team, playing with joy, coaching with joy. That’s come back here.”
The early part of the season was a roller-coaster ride for the Eagles. A loss to Manchester Valley closed a three-game losing streak, leaving the team 5-5. But in that five-point loss to the county-leading Mavericks, Develin saw the signs of good things to come.
“Even that Man Valley game when we lost it in the fourth quarter, there’s a lot of smiling on the floor, a lot of positivity. I think that’s contagious,” he said.
Since that game, more than smiling has been contagious. Winning has been, too, as FSK hasn’t lost since.
“[Having fun] is very important,” freshman Summer Brooks said. “It’s not all about the wins and losses, it’s about having fun and playing as a group. The more fun you have, I feel the better we play.”
The Eagles now stand 10-5. As important as having fun is, coming together as a team has been even more crucial to the team’s success. Develin said they had a lot of returning players, but also a freshman class that was keen on contributing right way. Developing chemistry took time, but it’s started to pay off.
“Since then, it’s been unselfish basketball,” the coach said. “The extra pass is being made, defensive rotations are now clicking. We’re playing connected, I think that’s kind of been the difference.”
“We all realize we couldn’t win playing as individuals,” junior Ally Mathias said. “We had to play as a team and as a unit.”
The best illustration of the team’s turnaround is its games against Liberty and Century. FSK lost to Liberty by 22 in December then to the Knights by 18 in early January. In the span of three days this past week, FSK overcame double-digit deficits and beat Liberty on Tuesday and Century in overtime Thursday.
“Those are two outstanding programs coached very well,” Develin said. “The first time around when we’re trying to figure ourselves out, I think we mentally put too much stress on ourselves and went kind of individual. The last two games, we got down 10 at Liberty and down 14 at half to Century. It’s that growth of, instead of going individual, trying to be the one to make the difference, it’s all five working together.”
“It’s the next play mentality,” Mathias said. “Your emotions isn’t the only thing that matters. You put the team first, that and just playing for each other is so important.”
The Eagles believed they could turn things around and put in the work to make it happen. Brooks said they watched a lot of film and focused on fixing their mistakes at practice.
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“We just all played together. The work ethic, you can see on everyone’s faces, we wanted it really bad,” she said. “We wanted to show everyone we can beat them.”
Playing as a group extends beyond a mindset. The team’s offensive production is balanced with several options depending on the night.
“It’s not like you can just stop one person right now,” Develin said.
Mathias and Brooks are two of the team’s top offensive players, but others such as Rayna Miller, Drew Watkins or Sierra Rose are able to step up and lead the team when needed. Mathias said that makes them a tough team to beat.
“If Summer has an off night with her shots, our posts and guards can rebound. If our shots aren’t falling, we look at Drew to drive and take it to the basket,” she said. “If there’s a problem, there’s always a solution and we trust everyone.”
FSK’s winning streak will be put to the test this week. The Eagles are in the midst of what Develin terms “the gauntlet,” as they prepare to face Westminster on Wednesday, travel to Manchester Valley on Friday then the Owls again on the road Feb. 7.
“Just keep working hard in practice, keep pushing each other,” Brooks said, “but the most important thing is to keep having fun.”