Basketball: Defense will lead the way for Balers

San Benito's David Hawks brings the ball up court as he is pressured by Taylor Dukes during Monday's practice.

Just a few months ago, the 2011-12 boys basketball season seemed in disarray.

The athletic administration couldn’t find a replacement for Tracy Carpenter, who left in May to coach in China. And because of the delay, the team couldn’t participate in summer league basketball as other teams in the region could.

Without a coach months into the school year, the Balers needed someone who knew the program and the players.

Enter David Kaplansky.

Back in September, the former girls head coach, who left his post earlier in the year after wanting to spend more time with his family, decided to help his alma mater in a time of need.

Now the team – and Kaplansky – is happy about that decision.

With returning players Jordan Belton, Hyram Miskin, Isaiah Acfalle, Michael Breen and Jacob Tonascia, Kaplansky expects his team – which is full of experience – to do well and get better as the season goes on.

“It’s important for me to keep them moving in the right direction,” Kaplansky said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know I’m going to try to win every tournament we enter in, and I’m going to try and win league. But right now we are only thinking game by game – we don’t want to get too far ahead.

He continued: “When we enter our tournaments, that will be our goal. Our goal will be to win this tournament and get these guys confident going into the league schedule.”

To build off last year’s 9-3 league finish and 15-11 overall record, Kaplansky is implementing a pressure-built defense that attacks opposing players, he said.

“I’m big on ball pressure,” he said. “We are reeling in the rotation part and rebounding. We feel like with the athletes we have we can really get out there on offense.”

So far during practice, the team has bought in.

“Pressure – there is more screening and reacting,” Belton said. “You read and react. It’s full-court pressure – all day, every day. That’s all we are doing. It’s full on the whole time.”

The faster-paced defense could give the Balers more opportunities to score on the other side of the court, Belton said.

“It brings more adrenaline,” he said. “It makes us want to play a little harder. It makes the game more fun and more exciting.”

Belton isn’t the only Baler that’s responded to Kaplansky’s style.

“It’s difficult – we had no summer league and no structure in the summer,” Kaplansky said. “We are starting from scratch and trying each day to implement our program. The kids have been really receptive.”

He continued: “I really enjoy the group, but we are trying to cram in a lot of information in a short time here so we can be successful in the preseason. I’ve enjoyed the kids’ intensity. They ask a lot of questions and they are high character guys. Their passion for the game seems to be high.”

But it’s Kaplansky’s passion that the team feeds from.

“Personally, it pumps me up and gets me going to see a coach that enthused with the game,” Acfalle said. “It wants us to play as hard as he is coaching.”

That’s exactly what Kaplansky wants.

“If I’m coaching, I want the team to mirror my philosophy and my energy,” he said. “The best part about coaching these guys is that they want to play this way. They seem to have it in them. The intensity level in practice has been great. We haven’t had a dull moment.”

But he is more than just intense, Belton said.

“He is a high intensity coach, and when it comes down to it, he is going to be the best in pressure situations because he has been there before,” Belton said. “He knows what he is doing.”

His coaching has allowed the team to gel better than previous years, Acfalle said.

“The team is playing differently,” Acfalle said. “We are more dependent on each other, trusting each other more. We are playing harder. We are playing at our full ability and not settling for less. Coach Kap is a great coach and he is teaching us how to play real basketball. He is showing us how to play at the next level.”

And the players hope that the “real basketball” play translates into a successful and possible championship season.

“I think we can take TCAL and go pretty far in CCS,” Belton said, “if we play like how we play in practice … if we play with that intensity.”

The Balers open the 2011-2012 season at Gonzales Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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