Taylor Siemers guards a Thermopolis player during the recent East versus West Tournament in Riverton. Photo by Heather Gifford
EVANSTON — Red Devils basketball head coach Roy Barker spoke of caring and change. And Red Devils pride found its way into the conversation a time or two.
“I know our kids care,” Barker told the Herald, “but do they care enough to change? Do they care enough to correct what is not working?
“You know, life is good when different guys are scoring, and another couple get some steals and we get some easy transition baskets and we go up by 10,” Barker continued, “but when things are not going well, when things get tough, do they care enough to change?”
Barker pointed out that everybody is still gunning for his team, as they are, after all, the reigning state champions.
The coach talked of the rough stretch Evanston went through, and how the coaching staff realized they had to employ different tactics in their approach.
“Because obviously, what we were doing was not working,” the coach explained. “I know as a coaching staff, we had to change. It’s what we have to do. We have to evolve. Our strategies have to be tweaked, and we need to constantly analyze what effects we’re having. We care enough to change. For certain players, I think it’s hard for them right now, because some of them don’t know what to do. They have to go beyond their comfort zones.”
He again alluded to the fact that, when things are going well, it’s easy.
“But when it’s tough, when shots aren’t falling, do our kids care enough to lock down defensively and start working for good shots?” he asked. “Will they play unselfishly, and make that extra pass, instead of attempting a contested shot?
It’s routine to videotape and review game film, but the Red Devils have taken it a step further, and are now videotaping their practices as a method to implement and foster leadership and ownership.
Barker addressed his team in a classroom setting and spoke of Xs and Os, talking in general terms, and his belief that some players are trying to do too much, while others need to step up. He mentioned the Red Devils’ shooting percentage declining, and reiterated the notion of taking too many contested shots, when an extra pass would serve the team much better.
After the coach felt he had said what he needed to say, he encouraged his team to break down the practice film on their own, without any coaches present in the classroom.
Barker expressed his desire to see his leaders step forward, but also for all team members to have input about what is working and what needs improvement.
In looking back at the Riverton tournament, the coach was very frank about his team’s performance, especially in the loss to Sheridan by 19 points.
“There’s no question, we were embarrassed,” Barker stated. “As a coaching staff, we were embarrassed, and our players were embarrassed.”
Barker then jumped into an “accentuate the positive” mode, explaining the team’s improvements in practice, and the promise they’re showing, with some of the new methodologies now reaching some players who may not have been receiving the proper instruction, or understanding the overall message.
“But with that being said,” Barker began, speaking of the embarrassment factor, “I do think we can right the ship. I know we have the talent, and I think they care enough, but it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of mental work.”
Barker is excited to play in the friendly confines of the Red Devils gym, in front of the hometown faithful tonight and tomorrow. He believes his players feel the same way, although he is a little nervous about the anxiety some may be experiencing.
“We’ve been talking to them about coming out and playing relaxed, but coming to play,” he said. “For some of them, this will be their first varsity basketball game at home. We just expect them to come out and play with emotion and heart, and just get after it.”
As pointed out in another story in this issue, this weekend represents the final pair of non-conference games. Next weekend, the games really and truly count in the 4A West Conference run, when looking at putting the team in a good position for post-season play and building momentum and confidence on the way there. But it’s still the task at hand focus, the one-game-at-a-time approach that is being stressed.
“I think that first weekend with the Casper schools is distant from their minds,” Barker relayed. “Our kids realize we have one more weekend to get better. One more opportunity to consider, ‘What do we need to fix going into conference play?’”
When looking back to last Thursday through Saturday in the East vs. West Tournament, Barker remained very candid.
“Laramie is solid,” Barker asserted. “We played harder against Laramie than we did again Sheridan, I think that is obvious.”
The coached delved deeper.
“The effort wasn’t bad against Laramie, but we didn’t buckle down when we needed to. Against Sheridan, it was just a bad effort. We had three minutes where we played like we should have, when we went on our little run. After that, when Sheridan got things going, our kids just didn’t play the right way, and were playing for themselves, not playing as a team. I think Sheridan is very similar to us. They’ve got some great players, but haven’t always played as a team, and it’s hurt them. Against us, they played as a team, and they won. Those teams, Laramie and Sheridan, were taking a step forward last week, and we were not. And the outcomes speak for themselves.”
With the first half of his first season as head coach under his belt, Barker was asked about what he had not anticipated, both positive and negative — the pleasant surprises and those of the unpleasant variety. The coach responded by claiming the administrative duties of a head coach, such as planning practices, coordinating team functions with outside groups and the associated paperwork and scheduling — which have him thinking about basketball more throughout the day and being more hands-on involved — have been a pleasant surprise. He didn’t know whether he would enjoy those facets of being a head coach, and expressed his coaching colleagues were a bit concerned about how he would tackle the additional responsibilities.
“I think coach Fessler, coach Demester, coach O’Neill, all those guys who know me, wondered how I would handle the extra duties and the administrative functions, but it’s actually been enjoyable,” Barker said.
Conversely? On the flip side, the coach didn’t anticipate the level of stress he would experience when worrying about his players, not only with their on-court development and coming together as a team, but with what is going on in their lives, how they’re managing as students, and what they’re going through personally, which extends to his players’ relationships with their families, friends, girlfriends, teachers, employers, etc. — far beyond what he was accustomed to being concerned with as a junior varsity coach.
“As an assistant coach, you could always pass the buck,” he remembered. “Now, as a head coach, the buck stops with me, so when they’re experiencing frustration and struggling, on the court or off, it all comes back to me. And I sometimes have to learn on the fly and also devote more time into answering the questions that surround, ‘What do I do to pull them through?’”
When looking ahead to this weekend’s opponents, the coach realizes his team will need to play well, and limit mental mistakes against the No. 1-ranked team in 3A hoops.
“Star Valley is great,” Barker shared. “I know they’re going to want a payback with us. It’s going to be a battle. I believe both teams are going to come out ready to play.”
The coach added, “We don’t match up with them well, but they don’t match up with us well, either. It’s going to come down to execution. Who will execute better? We realize we were fortunate to get the win up there. It could have gone either way.”
The coach agreed with the assessment that Jackson played a great game in their first meeting, and came out ready to play against Evanston.
“I think the win against us might be a springboard or launching pad for the Broncs to have a good season,” Barker surmised. “But I also know our boys will be ready to play Saturday, I don’t think there’s any question.”
Barker talked of the hometown fans, the spirited student body and those still with a connection to the program, including parents, grandparents and siblings of current players, and the fantastic support they demonstrate. He also reflected on community members, who turn out for both home and away games, who have no tangible connection to his current crop of Red Devils.
“I think it starts with former players,” Barker said. “In all sports, we speak of Red Devil pride, when getting ready to come out of the locker rooms or a team huddle. There’s a pride factor that’s understood and passed down, of what it means to be a Red Devil, of being from a small town, being the underdog. We receive great support at home, and I think everybody wants to win, but I believe, more than anything, the fans want to come out and see young men playing hard. It’s an expectation of our program and one our fan base understands.”
The head coach continued, addressing those without a personal connection or tie to his team, citing former head coach Brent Williams and his wife Joan attending not only every home game, but seeing the coach and his wife travel to places as far away as Cheyenne, as great examples.
“I think it’s fantastic to see them at away games. As a former coach, sure, coach Williams is bound to have an interest, but I don’t think there are many like him and his wife, who go to the lengths they do to be a part of it and lend their support,” Barker stated. “There are a lot of people who have gone through this school, and there are a lot of players who have laced it up and given all they had to give. Our fans know that, and appreciate it, and it keeps them coming back. That sense of pride is alive and well, and they expect the legacy to carry on.
“I really believe our players understand how meaningful it is to so many, and hopefully, they will play with that legacy and what it stands for, in mind,” Barker concluded.