P-O’s McKnight focusing on quality of kids, not quantity

It hasn’t been the perfect season for the Philipsburg-Osceola boys basketball team. The Mounties enter this week 0-14 in a tough Mountain League and have drawn more attention for not having enough kids to field a full team of substitutes. They cancelled their junior varsity season a couple of weeks ago.

The Mirror’s Philip Cmor caught up with P-O coach Dave McKnight on Saturday to talk about it.

Mirror: How many players did you have on the team at its lowest point? I thought I’d heard there were only six.

McKnight: No. We started out the year with 15. We lost one right away. Then, a couple of weeks in, another one quit. Then three quit two weeks ago, so I was down to 10. Then, one of my kids is sick. He has a doctor’s excuse. So then we’re down to nine. That’s pretty much what we had. If a kid is sick or doesn’t come to school that day or tweaks a muscle, he can’t play. Then we’re down to six or seven. We had seven last night.

Mirror: How do you even practice when you have those kind of numbers.

McKnight: You have to be creative. That’s the thing. The kids are great. They come. They work hard. But it’s tough to get live looks. We spend a lot of time doing scripted kinds of things. You know. Three passes, and that would be offense. Work on our press breaks. When everybody’s there, I have nine, and my assistant coach will step in. He has to limit that, because nobody gets a break. If I substitute on offense, you have to go play defense. It gets pretty grueling. We’ve cut down practices a little bit. Instead of 2 hours and 15 or 20 minutes, we give them an hour and a half, an hour and 45 minutes because everybody gets the reps and everybody gets everything done.

Mirror: It’s tough enough at a smaller school in practices, because there’s usually such a wide gap between the better players and the younger guys practicing against them. The better guys often don’t get pushed as hard as they need to get better. With your numbers, I’d think that would be a factor.

McKnight: There is. In our case, I have faith that most of the guys can step in, because they’ve got to. I’m asking them to step up, and they’ve got to do some significant time, because five guys can’t play an entire game. I rely on pretty much all my guys to step in and do the best they can, and that’s what they’re doing. They’re doing the best they can. They’re staying together. They’re not fighting with each other and pointing fingers. It could be difficult if I didn’t have such quality kids. It’d be more difficult, I should say, because I have nice kids, really nice kids. They come to practice. They work. They have fun. They goof around sometimes. Every team has to develop a personality. Like I said, they’re a great bunch to coach. Would I like to have more numbers? Absolutely. That would make a lot of things easier. But I like the kids I do have, so I don’t want to complain too much.

Mirror: Even though you have kids that seem to be able to deal with this, do you find yourself doing things to keep them from getting discouraged?

McKnight: Sure. We talk about it all the time. We say, ‘Look, guys. It is what it is.’ We can’t change that. All we can control is our attitude, our work ethic going in, and our mantra is ‘Let’s get better. Let’s get better.’ That’s what they’re trying to do. They work hard, and they try to get better each night.

Mirror: Is low numbers going to be an issue at P-O going forward?

McKnight: The ninth grade class has a lot of kids that are pretty dedicated. So that’s a plus. I think they’ll infuse the program. And the junior high has quite a few. Again, they’ve got to stay out. We had good numbers when this junior group was in ninth grade, but they haven’t stayed out, stayed with it. Commitment is a problem with almost every coach I’ve talked to. Getting commitment from kids is so difficult these days. There’s so much competing for their time and so much other stuff they can be involved in. In a small school like we have, it’s difficult, but these are the numbers, we’re trying to do what we can with what we have. People have been very supportive and haven’t been critical. I appreciate people’s patience, and the other coaches have been great. I don’t want to complain about the situation. It is what it is, and we just try to do the best job we can.