New coach ready to ignite Wildcats fire
KITTANNING - It has been a long time since optimism reigned within the Kittanning boys' basketball program.
The Wildcats last won a section title in 1982 and have not qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since most of the current roster was in diapers.
But with a new coaching staff coupled with a philosophical change, Kittanning will try to surprise a few teams in Section 1-AAA.
"We want to have a big improvement and be competitive in every game," Kittanning first-year head coach Doug Flanders said. "We're going to play a man-to-man, in-your-face defense with some trapping and some pressing."
Coming in with a new system and ideas could be daunting for young players who would have been holdovers from the John Odrechowski era, but there are two factors in Flanders' favor as he infuses the Kittanning program with his game plan.
First and foremost, there aren't very many starters remaining from last season's team, which means that the players are more apt to buy into a fresh concept without many preconceived notions.
"I'm having intense practices, working them hard every day trying to get the kids to believe in what we're doing," Flanders said. "I explain to them why we're doing things, not just tell them for no reason."
Another, more important, factor in the players acceptance of Flanders ideas is that most have already played for him at one time or another. He was a coach at the junior high level for several years and indoctrinated most of his players into his system at a young age.
"It helps me big-time because I already know these kids," Flanders said. "The seniors I coached in eighth and ninth grade so I know what they can do, I know their strengths and I know their weaknesses, and the sophomores, I had them two years. The only grades I'm missing are the juniors and a couple of freshmen."
Flanders, 26, already has an eye on building the program in his image. He still works weekends with the junior high program to get future players on the right track with his system, much like a varsity football feeder program, and knows what he has coming up throughout.
In addition to his player preparation, he went out of his way to choose the right assistant coach, Freeport High School alumnus Alan Bauman.
"I wanted to bring in a coach that people knew of, but not in Kittanning," Flanders said. "We get along so well, we think the same, we have the same philosophies, it's perfect."
Bauman came out of a solid program with the Yellowjackets that has had considerable success in recent years and brings that winning aura with him to the bench.
"Al and I love the game and we talk a lot. We always have talked a lot, even when he was in high school," Freeport head coach Garrie Davies said. "He's really put a lot of time into coaching, he loves it and I think it's really going to help Kittanning evolve and improve if he stays there."
And there's a long way to go.
Kittanning finished last season 2-12 in section play and 5-18 overall. Since dropping down from Quad-A after the 1997-98 season, the Wildcats have only posted an overall record of .500 or better once when they went 12-11 in 2000-01 and have never finished better than even in section play.
Over the last five seasons, Kittanning has gone a dismal 34-75, a horrendous .312 winning percentage, and an even worse 14-52 (.212) in section play.
To change all that, Flanders knows his team must have success early on.
"We'd love to win our tip-off tournament and three of our first four section games are at home, so that would be huge," Flanders said. "To not win a game (in the tournament) might hurt, I could live with a split, but I think it's very important we do well in our tip-off tournament."
It could go a long way toward fueling optimism within the program.