Growing process: Huskies improvement has team on verge of playoffs
Jan 27, 2017 02:56PM ● Published by Travis Barton
Junior Belle Jensen dives for a loose ball against Murray on Jan. 17. Jensen finished the game with 19 points. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
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By Travis Barton | email@example.com
Assistant coach Anthony Alford was finished with football practice and decided to swing by the gym before leaving. He saw two girls from the basketball team working on their shooting and ball handling.
“Season hasn’t started yet but Belle (Jensen) and Olivia (Palepoi) are in the gym working on their game,” Alford remembered. “Other schools I came from I had to fight to get kids in the gym to work on their game and here they are without a coach doing it on their own.”
Alford, in his first year at Hillcrest High School, was planning to coach boys again after his daughter had graduated high school. Instead, he joined the coaching staff of the girls basketball team.
“I started working with them and got to know other girls and I thought, ‘maybe there was a reason I walked in the gym at that time,” Alford said.
With a formula that focuses on rebounding, limiting turnovers and playing with high energy, the Huskies had built to a 7-6 (4-1 region) record at press deadline.
“We’re at 500 (winning percentage) right now, but it doesn’t show how good we are. We’ve grown every week,” Alford said, adding that earlier games would have different outcomes if they played now.
It is the team’s depth and flexibility, Alford said, which allows them to find an advantageous matchup, regardless of who they play.
“One thing I love here is we’re an unselfish team. It’s not about me, me, me…it’s about what can I do to help us be better,” Alford said. “It’s about what we can do to get the win and play our best game.”
Team growth has been continuous since the beginning of the season, serving as a team goal since day one. For the Huskies, each day is an opportunity for improvement.
“It’s a focus of ours to come into practice each day and try and get better that day, not waste reps, not waste days…we want to have fun but we want to have fun getting better,” Alford said.
That continual improvement is embodied by one of those players Alford found in the gym, junior Belle Jensen.
Alford recalled the team working on a dribbling technique from the wing its first day. Two days later, she used it in a game.
“Belle is a driven kid. She has high expectations for herself so it makes it really easy to coach her. You give her a move to work on and within a couple days it’s gonna be implemented, which doesn’t happen all the time,” Alford said.
Jensen has been a quick learner since she started playing basketball in eighth grade. With a desire to always learn more, Jensen watches videos of her favorite players such as Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman.
“I’ll find a player I really admire and watch how they act…I’m always looking for something new to learn,” Jensen said.
Averaging over nine points through 13 games, the 6-foot-2-inch Jensen has become a force for opponents to reckon with.
“When we need points, we can go to Belle, I can tell you that,” Alford said. He added they want to reach a point where when they need defensive stops, they can go to Jensen too.
Throughout the season’s transition to discovering the team’s identity, the appreciation between coaches and players has grown as well.
“If I have a kid who wants to learn from me and always has the right question to ask, and is intuitive about getting themselves better or how to make a play work better; that’s what you coach for, makes your job easy,” Alford said.
“Coaches have been great,” Jensen said. “They’re very approachable, they’ll drop everything when I have a question so I’ll understand…they want what’s best for us.”
Jensen said she has loved getting know her teammates and coaches both on and off the court.
“My coaches and teammates make my whole basketball experience enjoyable,” Jensen said.
The Huskies are primed to achieve their goal of qualifying for the playoffs having not been there since 2013.
“If we stay together and play our way, we’ll be where we want to be,” Alford said.