Basketball teams normally use summer leagues to get an idea of what to expect for the coming season and maybe get a chance to tinker with a few things before the games count for real.
That’s exactly what happened for the Doyle basketball team last summer, and it worked to the Tigers’ advantage this season – only not in the way one might expect.
“This year was completely unexpected all the way around,” Doyle coach Daniel Kennedy said. “We knew that we had some potential from our players but give out players credit. I really thought that they worked hard in the offseason – kind of more after the summer. We talked about this, about how bad our summer was for me and for them, and I think looking back, it was probably good for us. It motivated them and motivated me, all of us, to make changes that were necessary. Give them the credit. They worked really hard.”
Because of that, Kennedy was selected by his peers as the Coach of the Year during voting for the All-Livingston Parish basketball team.
“It’s such an honor among your peers to be voted on something like that,” Kennedy said after guiding the Tigers to a 24-8 record and a trip to the regional round of the Class 2A playoffs. “I’m very thankful and grateful to those guys. I think it could have went to really any one. I really think we’ve got a good group of coaches in our parish, and several of them had good years this year. I was very surprised, I will say that. I’m very thankful, but also very surprised.”
It may sound strange, but the seeds for Doyle’s success during the regular season were planted after the Tigers went winless in Woodlawn Summer League play.
“We’ve never really been real good, but we’ve never been that bad, either,” Kennedy said of his team’s record in summer league play. “I would never want to go undefeated in the summertime because then you kind of give your kids the wrong impression. I think you want to be about .500. You want to lose some, win some and kind of be balanced. From a coaching standpoint, that’s what I’d like.”
That wasn’t the case for the Tigers during the summer.
“It’s one thing if you lose and you’re playing against good competition and you’re competitive,” Kennedy said. “We weren’t even competitive, so it really didn’t take rocket science for us to say, ‘hey, let’s all come together and make the necessary changes.’”
That meant moving away from an offensive plan that was originally designed to take advantage of big man John Barrios’ size in the middle, while playing a low-scoring, slower-paced game. Defensively, the Tigers wanted to take advantage of the team’s length with Barrios, Andrew Yuratich and Thomas Hodges playing zone defense.
Once the regular season rolled around, the Tigers went to a more uptempo offensive style and switched to a man-to-man defense.
“Things that we thought were going to be something that we could benefit from, we basically did just the opposite,” Kennedy said. “The summer was like a trial-and-error and none of it worked.”
“It was tough this summer,” Kennedy continued. “It really was. Again, looking back at it, I can really see how good that was for me as a coach but also for our players as well. It really motivated them. These guys are really competitive and don’t like to lose, so it really motivated all of us to (say), ‘hey, if we’re going to be a good team, then we’ve really got to make some changes for me as the coach and what we are needing to do, and player-wise, we need to develop and get ourselves better as well’. It was a team effort for sure.”
Doyle started the season 4-1, picking up wins over Terrebonne and Live Oak as part of its own tournament before dropping a game to Episcopal at home. That set the stage for a 10-1 run for the Tigers over their next 11 games, including an eight-game win streak and a third-place finish in the Livingston Parish Tournament. The only loss during that time came to Denham Springs as part of the parish tourney.
Doyle also went undefeated in the Hanson Memorial Tournament just before the Christmas break.
“I think at that break we kind of said we really can be a special group,” Kennedy said.
“All that goes to the players,” Kennedy continued. “I can preach it and say, ‘hey, this is what we need to do’, but they don’t do it …,” Kennedy said. “I make my living based on what teenagers do. You have to give those players credit. They have to be willing to be unselfish and to buy into what’s best for everybody and not their individual (stats) and believe in themselves and have confidence in their abilities, have confidence and belief in their teammates and then have belief and confidence in our team as a whole in what all of us are trying to accomplish together.”
Along the way, Barrios (15.2 points per game, 11.7 rebounds per game, 1.4 blocks per game), Yuratich (12.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, three assists per game) and Braden Keen (12 ppg, 4.3 rpg, four assists per game) helped spark the team.
Doyle lost consecutive games against Lee High and Northlake Christian to snap its win streak, but Kennedy said those losses, as well as the one to Episcopal, helped in the team’s development.
“We kind of scheduled those games to kind of be a measuring stick of ‘hey, this is where we want our program to be,’” Kennedy said. “In the Episcopal game, we didn’t show up mentally. I thought we were kind of defeated before we got started. That was what was frustrating about that game. I knew that I’d made a schedule. It’s not like we were going to go undefeated, but you wanted to be competitive and see your guys on the bigger stage against a bigger opponent like, ‘hey, how are we going to respond? How are we going to come out with our intensity and our mental focus?’”
“The Episcopal game was a letdown, they were frustrated afterward,” Kennedy continued. “They knew. That was a learning lesson for us. We lost to Lee, but that game was competitive. We lost in the fourth quarter when my two guards go down. One fouls out (Keen), one gets hurt (Yuratich). We had to change defenses and offense … and that was the difference in the game, but in that game, we competed very, very well.”
Kennedy also pointed to the loss to Northlake Christian as helping fuel a 9-0 run through District 10-2A play as the Tigers captured a share of the league title.
“Before we even got to the first district game, we had kind of felt like we were the best team based on who we had played and how we had played …” Kennedy said. “Northlake was obviously going to be a good team as well, but it really felt like, in our hearts, that we were a better team.”
“I think we showed up that first night (in the) first round of district not ready to play, kind of maybe too confident, and then once we got humbled, we did run the table,” Kennedy said. “I think that was a wake-up call. The guys really responded well. They were a very competitive group of guys who really wanted to win a district championship and wanted to be able to position themselves to make a good run in the playoffs. I think, again, it goes back to how competitive they wanted to be. They really hate to lose.”
Doyle closed the regular season with a pair of losses to Jehovah-Jireh and Family Christian before heading into the playoffs.
“No offense to our guys, very few times I thought we were more talented than the team that stepped on the floor,” Kennedy said. “I think when we played together, our talent was better, but just to roll the ball out and say, ‘hey, we’re going to beat ya’ll because we’re more talented’, that’s not the type of team that we had. We go into the playoffs, I’m concerned. Here we are, lost the last two games, and didn’t look well in the last game mentally.”
The Tigers rolled to a 104-75 win over South Plaquemines in the first round of the playoffs before Jonesboro-Hodge pulled away for a 74-66 victory in the regional round in a back-and-forth contest, which Kennedy is hopeful the program can build on heading into next season.
“They had fun playing together, and you throw on top of that, they saw how good they could be,” Kennedy said of his team. “It stung, and I hope it stung in a good way that when we get the chance to start back working and practicing, I can bring that up. Most of our team now is going to be seniors. This is your last shot … and you control that, so we want to be able to use that as motivation.”