Hard-working Jeannette boys basketball team soaring after slow start

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Thursday, January 23, 2020 | 6:15 PM


Apparently, there are no actual days off at Jeannette.

The boys basketball team did not have practice Monday as coach Adrian Batts gave his players a long weekend. Yet a number of them funneled into the gym after school to get some shots up.

They even pulled out the seldom-used shooting machine and eventually merged into a shirts-and-skins scrimmage.

An impromptu workout manifested right before Batts’ eyes as crickets chirped in the break room.

The coach had planned to get some housekeeping done — literally — during the maintenance day, including washing team uniforms. (Talk about load management.)

But he instead ended up watching his team get better.

“They want to be here,” Batts said. “It’s not mandatory, but they want to be here.”

That is what a winning streak can do for a team.

Following a 1-6 start that included some knockdowns against teams from larger classifications, the Jayhawks (10-6, 6-1) have won nine in a row to surge into a first-place tie with Serra Catholic in Section 2-2A.

And, poof, they are now ranked No. 3 in Class 2A.

“It’s like building a house,” Batts said. “You have to start from the bottom. Right now, we’re at the middle. And we’re still building.”

The swell of strong play has been a combination of a firmer commitment to defense, a reduction in fouls and all-around smarter possessions.

“We’re defending really well,” said senior guard Jackson Pruitt, who leads the team in scoring (15 ppg) and also averages 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals. “We cleaned up our fouling, and we’re a lot more patient on offense. When you’re patient running sets, you get more openings.”

The streak began with an offensive outburst: a 107-47 win over Bentworth.

Seven of the wins have come at home, including 48-46 over Indiana and 50-38 against Valley in Jeannette’s holiday tournament.

Section play resumed with wins over Carmichaels, Chartiers-Houston, California, Serra and Brentwood, the last of which saw the Jayhawks hang on, 43-40, after Brentwood made a late run to make it close.

Jeannette beat visiting East Allegheny, 65-33, on Wednesday.

“Our guys weren’t trusting each other (early in the year),” Batts said. “They all wanted to play varsity, but they were out there for themselves, not the team. We were only playing good basketball in spurts. But we have settled down defensively and we’re defending together.”

Now, Jeannette players have set a goal of limiting teams to 40 points or less. They have accomplished that goal five times.

“We’re moving the ball better and not fouling as much,” said junior point guard Toby Cline, who gives the Jayhawks 7.5 assists and 7.0 points a night. “And we’re taking a lot of charges. We’re also scoring more in transition. We want to play fast. Teams want to slow us down so we’ve had to work on our patience with a zone.”

Batts said this is one of his more “coachable” groups, and one that is buying into defense leading to offense. His seniors are making sure the team gets conditioned to that approach.

“There is more of guys holding each other accountable,” Batts said. “Jackson and Zach (Crutchman) have been phenomenal as vocal leaders. They have been leading our pre-practice routine. When your leaders play their best, that’s how you win.”

Crutchman averages 6.6 points and a team-best 8.5 rebounds, while Jeannette also has received significant contributions from sophomore Anton Good (9.7 ppg) and junior Keith Rockmore (9.1 ppg).

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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