Smith, Franklin Towne hoops on the right track

Break­ing through: Frank­lin Towne Charter seni­or guard Steve Smith (cen­ter) has paced the up­start Coyotes to a 5-3 re­cord. BRAD LAR­RIS­ON / FOR THE TIMES

— After three head coaches in as many sea­sons, Frank­lin Towne is hop­ing bas­ket­ball sta­bil­ity is here to stay.

Chris Lauber knows full well it takes more than eight games to build a pro­gram. That be­ing said, the first-year boys bas­ket­ball coach at Frank­lin Towne Charter is con­fid­ent the pro­gram he in­her­ited is headed in the right dir­ec­tion.

As suc­cessor to three dif­fer­ent coaches in as many sea­sons, Lauber is the latest name in charge of the Coyotes, a mem­ber of the Pub­lic League’s Di­vi­sion D. But un­like those who came be­fore him, Lauber is much more in­ter­ested in con­struct­ing long-term suc­cess on the hard­wood at Towne.

Already hav­ing topped its total of four wins from a year ago through just eight games, Towne (5-3) is see­ing much more pos­it­ives than neg­at­ives as the cal­en­dar turns to 2013. Eye­ing con­sist­ency and sta­bil­ity in­stead of an­oth­er re­cycled one-and-done cam­paign, Lauber has ac­cep­ted head-on his biggest ca­reer chal­lenge so far.

“In terms of win­ning games, we’ve been more suc­cess­ful than not in the first half of the sea­son,” Lauber said. “It’s a struggle to find an iden­tity with a new coach every year, but it’s go­ing well. I’m proud of these guys. Our goal has been to try to de­vel­op something sol­id here, and it’s com­ing to­geth­er.”

Towne’s latest steps to­ward re­spect­ab­il­ity came over the week­end in the Robert Hopf Tour­na­ment, hos­ted by Jen­k­in­town High School. On Thursday, sopho­more Ry­an Boyd poured in 19 points to pace the Coyotes to a 60-47 win over the Sci­ence Lead­er­ship Academy. The win snapped Towne’s three-game los­ing streak, and pro­pelled Lauber’s bunch in­to Fri­day night’s cham­pi­on­ship game against host Jen­k­in­town.

In a tight con­test that went wire-to-wire, seni­or cap­tain Steve Smith, who has been front and cen­ter for all the past up­heav­al with­in the bas­ket­ball pro­gram, scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and in over­time to help Towne edge Jen­k­in­town in a 50-46 thrill­er. The 6-foot Smith was named the tour­na­ment’s most valu­able play­er, and it was the second tour­na­ment vic­tory of the sea­son for the Coyotes.

“I think the game against Jen­k­in­town was Steve’s first real op­por­tun­ity to put his team on his shoulders and just close a game out,” Lauber said. “He has a point-scor­ing gene, but even more im­port­antly, it was his pres­ence on de­fense that changed the mo­mentum and tempo for us. It’s so good to have someone with that ex­per­i­ence, someone that can make his pres­ence known on the court late in games. It’s in­valu­able.”

Smith’s 12.5 points per game is tops for the Coyotes, but he has had help on a team that can win with bal­ance and depth. Boyd is also av­er­aging bet­ter than 12 points per game, and seni­ors Na­je Benton and Tom Whit­field — as well as ju­ni­ors Mike Kessler and De­met­ri­us Frye — have made im­pacts as well.

Through just eight games in­to his head coach­ing ca­reer at Towne, Lauber has seen growth in his team, growth that has al­lowed the Coyotes to win close games they would have dropped in the past.

“When some of these guys were fresh­men and sopho­mores, they were los­ing games by large mar­gins,” Lauber said. “Last year, I think they star­ted see­ing those games get closer. They won some of them, and they’re con­tinu­ing to build that con­fid­ence. The guys on this team, they’ve built a lot of char­ac­ter the last three to four years with how things have gone for some of them. It’s something they’ve been build­ing to­ward, and now they ex­pect to go in­to hos­tile en­vir­on­ments and win. I’ve been telling them there can be no ‘I don’t knows.’ We need to ex­pect to win, and it’s something that’s de­vel­op­ing and been com­ing to fruition.”

It hasn’t all gone ac­cord­ing to plan, as Towne is off to just a 1-3 start in Di­vi­sion D play. After a league-open­ing over­time win over Ran­dolph on Dec. 11, the Coyotes dropped three straight to Sayre, Palmer and Swen­son be­fore win­ning the Hopf Tour­na­ment a week later. Two of the losses were by six points and the oth­er was by eight, so Lauber fig­ures his team is close to turn­ing these close Pub­lic League games in­to vic­tor­ies.

“Those first four league games were com­pet­it­ive, and our first half of the sea­son sched­ule was very tough,” Lauber said. “There are a lot of tests com­ing down the road, too. We’re still learn­ing how to play to­geth­er and see­ing what these close games look like. Be­ing 5-3 is a good po­s­i­tion for us be­cause it’s an over­all re­cord that gives us some con­fid­ence.”

The biggest key to the sea­son’s second half, com­prised en­tirely of Di­vi­sion D con­tests, will be Towne’s abil­ity to play a full 32-minute game on both sides of the ball, something that has gone a bit bet­ter in the tour­na­ment games than it has in the ones that really mat­ter.

“In our losses, we’ve had any­where from a four to sev­en-minute stretch that we’ve just giv­en to the oth­er team,” Lauber said. “We can look at these games and identi­fy a peri­od in them that we’d like to have back. The tour­na­ment wins give us the con­fid­ence to play well down the stretch of our league games, and learn­ing how to play an en­tire game will help, re­gard­less of who our op­pon­ent is.”

Go­ing for­ward, two things Lauber hopes to con­tin­ue to es­tab­lish will be sta­bil­ity and con­sist­ency with­in the Towne pro­gram. Be­fore the sea­son star­ted, the new head coach said he had wanted to give his five seni­ors a mem­or­able fi­nal year of high school while be­gin­ning to build some semb­lance of a found­a­tion for his cur­rent sopho­mores and ju­ni­ors. Above all else, he wants to show his re­turn­ing play­ers what it will be like to enter the fol­low­ing sea­son with the same coach as the year be­fore.

It hasn’t al­ways easy, which is fine, be­cause easy is not what Lauber ex­pec­ted.

“It’s been a chal­lenge, it really has,” he said. “We want to build char­ac­ter in wins and losses, which will def­in­itely be be­ne­fi­cial for the young play­ers go­ing for­ward. The play­ers buy­ing in­to my philo­sophy has played a huge role in that. They un­der­stand I don’t have it all figured out, and I’m learn­ing something new every day about what works and what doesn’t work when build­ing a pro­gram. With any new pro­gram that has a new coach, there’s go­ing to be some res­ist­ance. But I’ve been really im­pressed with how these guys have handled it.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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