— 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 firstname.lastname@example.org