Trib Cup: Indiana boys focus on improving every day

| Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, 10:39 p.m.

The Indiana boys basketball team returned from their trip to Wildwood, N.J. for the Boardwalk Basketball Classic in late December with more than just a tournament championship trophy.

The Little Indians stumbled upon, and adopted, a team mantra and enjoyed a brisk, impromptu swimming session that has formed a tight bond.

While preparing for its game in a makeshift locker room in a hotel ballroom, coach Greg Lezanic noticed the term “play better today than you did before” written on an easel.

“We sat and looked at that phrase and thought that it was really just such a simple sentence that makes so much sense,” Lezanic said. “We broke it down and just thought about it for a while and just realized that it's completely true.

“From that moment, we've been using it ever since.”

The Little Indians are 12-1 overall and 5-1 in Section 1-AAA, good for first place. For their performance so far, they are highlighted as this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team, and they are a primary reason why Indiana is in eighth place in the Class AAA standings.

Those six words carry significant weight around the Little Indians' locker room, almost as much as the dip the entire group took in the ocean after the team's dinner on Friday night before the tournament started.

“I tell you what, it was pitch black, the wind chill was 29 degrees and that water was 49 degrees,” Lezanic said. “It had absolutely nothing to do with basketball, but what it showed me is that this team has a bond and a special care for one another.

“That's hard to come across these days. I think that trip to Wildwood is what we'll look back on and credit the success we can have this year.”

The team's unique bond starts with who Lezanic described as its “emotional leader” — senior forward Derek Stapleton. His senior teammate — forward Darrious Carter — is a Virginia football recruit. Stapleton and Carter have given the opposition fits by owning the paint and rarely allowing anyone to outrebound them.

Juniors Riley Stapleton, Blake Shields and Kevin Jack round out the starting five. Lezanic said he is happy with the physical and emotional maturity the group has shown since their sophomore seasons and expects them to be regular contributors and leaders as seniors.

Lezanic's nine-player rotation allows for senior Jordan Hudzicki, junior Chris McConnell, sophomores Dylan Stapleton and Jake Zilinskas to contribute significant minutes off the bench.

“I won't tell you everything clicked the first day, because in reality it took four to six weeks for us to get on the same page,” Lezanic said. “But one day it was just like a light bulb clicked and here we are.

“It's really been great to see them develop not only as basketball players, but also young men.”

If you ask Lezanic, this team is not far off from where he thinks it needs to be to contend for not only a section, but a WPIAL title.

“We have to play 32 minutes,” he said. “To win a WPIAL title, it's going to take 32 minutes of intense basketball.”

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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