Eastside boys’ basketball got off to a slow start that included a lopsided blowout loss to county-rival Newton by 30 points, but since then the Eagles are 5-1 and looking like a top-tier team in Region 4-AAAA. We talked with head coach Brent Wren about the Eagles resurgence, his big three and improving on defense.
The Covington News: The team got off to a slow start to begin the season going 1-2 in the first three games but since then you’ve turned it around. You’re now 6-2 and 4-0 in region play what’s been the biggest catalyst for the turnaround?
Brent Wren: It’s really the boys. They’re grasping what it is we’re trying to do. My thing is if you push the ball you get more shots, you tend to score more. These boys have a great deal of skillset. All of them can shoot the ball well, all of ‘em can run lanes, all of ‘em can get to the basket. So it’s just a matter of taking those and getting them to [do it]. They’ve come from a system where everything was structured and pre-determined for ‘em. Now we’re trying to get them in a position where they’re running the floor and they’re using their athleticism to the best of their ability.
CN: You kind of segued into my next point because the boys are scoring a lot of points. They haven’t been held to under 60 points the entire season. You’ve got some talented guys with Joshua Cammon, Isaiah Miller and Keondre Perry. How have you guys been able to put it together on offense?
Wren: Really it’s them. You put them in a position where there’s a structure, but at the same time you don’t confine them to the point where they don’t have the ability to use their skillset. The goal is let them use their skillsets and all of them have different things that put defenders at risk and as long as you got people thinking about playing defense and you’re coming at them you’re gonna score points. My thing is if we can put up more shots than you can on the other side we’ll win a lot of games that way. The other thing is they’re a talented group of boys. It’s not a fluke. They’ve been working hard for three years, they’ve been going at it. They go hard at each other in practice and they’re just starting to gel together. At first they were reluctant to the freedom. It was, ‘Coach I’m kind of confused as to what I’m supposed to do,’ and I keep having to remind them, ‘You guys, the offseason is where you prepare for this and now you just play.’ That’s what we’re trying to convince them that they can do it and they’re starting to gel and it’s starting to come about.
CN: It seems like you kind of have a big three with Miller, Cammon and Perry. So talk about some of their skillsets. Because I’m watching the [Griffin] game and I see Perry’s long so when he’s defending somebody – How has that big three of Cammon, Perry and Miller developed?
Wren: That’s the biggest thing. Perry, all the way up until this point, he’s just known as a shooter and that’s his mindset. We’re trying to change that to, ‘Yeah you can shoot the ball. Guess what, but if you defend, you get more shots. That’s what we’re trying to convince him to do. You see how long he is. When he does go after some stuff he can get there. It’s just he just hasn’t done it over a long enough period of time. He has a very high basketball IQ and he’s not the fastest person in the world, but he’s rangy because of his length and his size. We’re beginning to teach him how to use it to think one step ahead defensively. Offensively he does it already, but we’re trying to get him to do it defensively. Because for me the biggest thing I’m looking at is, I think we’re giving up way too many points. That’s where I think we’re lagging. We score enough, but we’re giving up too many. It’s, again, trying to teach them to play an uptempo game on both sides of the ball, press and so forth. They’re giving up layups that they shouldn’t and that’s just a mental toughness thing that they’re having to learn on the fly.
CN: With Isaiah it seems like he’s getting better. In that first half he kind of deferred a little bit, he didn’t attack as much, but in the third quarter I think he had like 12 points. So coach talk about him attacking and also Cammon, who can shoot and he can drive.
Wren: Big components. Huge components for us. One of the things with Isaiah is we’re trying to teach him, he has to learn the ebb and flow of the game. As a point guard he’s gotta be able to defer at times to say, ‘I have other kids around me that can score and work for me I need to create situations for them.’ He’s learning that, but at the same time he has to know as a leader of the team when he’s gotta take over and do certain things. That’s one of the things we’re looking at trying to embed in him. Then understand, OK, he’s athletic and can get wherever he wants to, but are you getting where you need to to make the right basketball play is what we’re trying to teach him and limit turnovers. His foul trouble, he has a history of just getting into foul trouble. So now I think he’s a little bit back from it because he’s trying not to commit those fouls early. For like a couple games he’s gotta couple over-the-back fouls because he thinks he can get every ball so he goes after every single ball. He’s gotta know sometimes I just gotta defer because I have to be in the game for the long haul.
CN: You kind of hinted at my next point as well, where do you want to improve the most? It seems defense is maybe your weakest, but it's a little deceiving because you guys score so much and against Griffin your defense created a lot of turnovers.
Wren: Defense. Probably our half-court man has been the most beneficial to us. Even in the second half we stopped pressing and went to primarily just half-court man. One of my philosophies is if you make teams have to make basketball plays as opposed to athletic plays you kind of come out on top because athletic plays are layups. Basketball plays are somebody’s gotta catch the ball in a position to make a basketball move or somebody’s gotta make a basketball play to get somebody else open. It takes more to do that. That’s why in the second half we backed off of that pressure because we realized when we were pressuring them they were getting layups. That second and third quarter we kind of eliminated those layups and were able to extend so that was one of the things. We do really, really well in our half-court man. They help out, I wish they would talk a little bit more. Rebounding hurts us. That’s one of the things that we lack. We have Jesse at 6-foot-8, he’s just a junior and he really hasn’t played much so rebounding is kind of difficult for him. We just gotta remember to get five to the basketball.
CN: Against Griffin you used your starters a lot but then played your bench for most of the fourth quarter until about the 1:30 mark when Griffin cut the lead to 10. It seems your rotation isn’t really deep, but then they were able to maintain a 14-point lead for almost an entire quarter. What are your thoughts on your bench so far and going forward?
Wren: We do have a drop-off from our first five to the group we have, but that group plays really, really hard defensively. So we may lose on scoring, but really what we expect that group to do is maintain while they’re out there. What ends up happening is, I never felt the game got out of hand to where we were gonna lose it and for me it’s not the number of points we can rack up its play solid basketball and then the game to me started to get chippy. The little foul on Josh [Wilson] and some of the other stuff. Some of the banter that was going on with a couple of the players when they came to the bench. My thing was let me pull ‘em and let the second unit get out there as long as they [could] because Isaiah already had a technical foul. A second technical, he would’ve been eliminated from playing the next game. All of that stuff was in that process. It’s one of those things. We’ve never beaten Griffin. They have a chip, our kids have a chip. You just didn’t want emotions to have something that’ll hurt you in the long run. The goal is to win. Get the win, get out, no injuries, nobody get hurt and just keep moving.