Fossil Ridge graduated a class of more than 400 seniors this past year, and 11 boys basketball players were among them. That has left coach Zach Myers with a lot of empty lockers to fill before next season tips off.
It has also left a leadership void, and the natural fit for that role falls on the shoulders of senior Devin Danford. The only Panther with any significant varsity experience, Danford will be counted on to facilitate the transition of Ridge’s new-look 2014-2015 team.
“He’s a guy that they look at as an example because he’s one of the few guys that has varsity experience,” Myers said. “He’s been there. They do know that he knows what he’s talking about when he says something.”
“In practice I’ve got to pick them up when they’re tired,” Danford said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m doing what I have to do to make sure everybody is on the same page and working hard.”
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Danford’s ascendance to one of the team’s leaders hasn’t been as smooth as he or Myers would like. Danford spent much of the spring dealing with an injury and wasn’t fully cleared until the end of June – near the end of the summer league.
“I could tell them what they needed to do better, but I couldn’t really show them at the time,” Danford commented.
“He was doing a lot of leadership things off the floor,” Myers added.
But leadership isn’t the only thing the Panthers will need to make a return trip to the postseason. They’ll need growth as players and as a team. But both Danford and Myers feel like they’ve seen the beginning of that development over the summer.
“There’s no doubt we have a long ways to go and there’s a lot of work to do,” Myers said. “But I’ll say this: From where we were in the spring to where we ended the summer, I was very, very pleased with how much they got better.”
“We took a lot of big steps,” Danford added. “Of course, we need to take some more, though. But we’ve gotten better with chemistry and playing together.”
With so many spots on the floor open for the taking, competition within the team for playing time will be intense, and Myers hopes that pays dividends.
“There are no spots that are taken. Whether we have 12 coming back or one coming back, we’ve always been like, ‘You want that spot, go take it.’ We truly believe that competition creates some greatness. If you’re competing for a spot, you better be on your best every day. And that’s what we’ve tried to create over the last few years.
“Our guys know, and they come to compete,” he continued. “Some of them may be competing for a starting role, some maybe just for a place on the varsity. Some of them might be competing to be all-district. Whatever it might be, everybody is competing. Competition creates some great battles and makes people better.”
Next season’s Panthers will need to embody the concept of team basketball. Myers feels that – at least at this point – they don’t have one go-to guy that will be a guaranteed 20 points a night. Danford is fine with that, and feels like there’s still plenty of winning to come from the infusion of youth.
“We’re young but [the young guys] are good and talented,” he said. “If we just work hard, we can come out with a good amount of wins.”