The Fitch basketball team had a horrible time in head coach Jason Baker’s first season at the helm last year.
Fitch finished 2009-2010 with just one victory and was winless inside the Federal League. As the Falcons embark on their final season as members of the Federal, coach Baker takes with him plenty of lessons he learned as a rookie head coach.
“I learned you have to work hard and do the right things,” said Baker a few days before the start of this season. “You have to do that as both players and coaches.”
Those “right things” start with basic fundamentals and work ethic then evolve into on-court philosophy.
“You have to play hard and do things we need to do execution wise,” said Baker. “We have to spend a lot of focus on defense. We won’t be able to get by in the Federal League without playing good defense.”
Playing that tenacious “D” will be three kids who earned letters last season. Bill Price, Jonas Ballard and Dan Chepke will make up the majority of Baker’s starting lineup. Price is a six-foot, three-inch sophomore who played major minutes down the stretch last year and will be the tallest option Baker has to start. Ballard is a six-foot senior who handles the rock adeptly for the Falcons and will be looked upon as a team leader. Chepke is a junior who is one of Fitch’s top scorers.
That trio should form a solid nucleus and should be joined by seniors Adam Nishimura and Dontrell Lawrence in the starting five although the coach would not commit to an official first five when pressed.
“There is no definite lineup yet,” said Baker sheepishly.
Three other Falcons will also log large amounts of minutes off of Baker’s bench. That triumvirate will be junior Pat Rovnak, junior Nick Williams and junior David Anzelmo. Anzelmo and Williams both stand six-foot, two-inches so they will bring some much needed height off the pines while Rovnak should provide some offensive punch.
There is no doubt that those kids will bust their tails each night to earn more than just the solo victory they picked up a year ago. Playing in the ferocious Federal League makes it so hard for the Falcons to obtain those “W’s” however. With teams such as state champion Massillon Jackson, Massillon Perry and Canton McKinley calling the Federal home it may be good that the Falcons will fly into the All American Conference next basketball season. Until that times come, Fitch will attempt to stay afloat in the Federal.
“It will be important to make an impact (in Fitch’s final Federal League season),” said Baker emphatically. “The Federal League is a great basketball league. We will definitely be better than we were last year.”
Preparing the Falcons for better things will be a brutal non-conference slate that begins Dec. 3 with the home opener versus Howland. The Tigers are the tops of the Red Tier right now and are favored to win it all again this season. The game against Howland as well as games with Canfield and Poland will give Baker a chance to prove himself against his soon-to-be conference cousins.
“Playing teams from the All American Red Tier is important,” said the coach. “Making an impact against the local teams is as important as making an impact in the Federal League.”
According to coach Baker, the only way his boys will make that impact is if they hustle every time their number is called out to the court.
“I expect us to compete every second of every game,” Baker insisted. “I expect to take steps in the right direction.”
At this point, the only direction these Falcons can go is straight up.