Winters Blizzards boys basketball team built on hard work

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register

"Their work ethic is what we talk about. We discuss the word 'work,' and what it means. We don't want to be given anything. We want to earn it." That's the way Winters Blizzards boys varsity basketball coach Colton Holmes wants it. That's the way his players want it. That's the way that they have it. Nothing is given.

Winters Blizzards' Head Coach Colton Holmes gives some instruction to sophomore Aidan Leamon #10. Leamon moved into the district over the summer when his father, Sean Leamon, was hired as the superintendent for WISD. This season Leamon has been a key player in the success of the Blizzards.

Coach Holmes is a native of west Texas, hailing from Sterling City. Holmes and his wife, Shelby, along with their two children, Harrison and Hadley, came to Winters when he was hired as the head basketball coach before this season started. Holmes was the head coach at Eldorado for 2 years before spending 4 years at Christoval as an assistant.

Perhaps the only thing colder than the frigid embrace of mother nature this past week is the Winters Blizzards defense. The team is 21-4 overall. They won their district with a 9-1 record. The sole district loss came in a surprising 36-31 loss to Forsan (10-13, 4-6). Otherwise, the defense has held teams to 33.9 points per game during the regular season, and 33.8 games during district play. This, while the offense put up an average of 51.1 points during the season and 53.9 points in district play. The Blizzards did what great teams do; they got better on both offense and defense when district play started.

Winters Blizzards players Aidan Leamon #10 and Mason Crowe #5 defend against a Miles Bulldogs player in a January game. The Blizzards' defense has been a critical aspect of the Blizzards 21-4 season as they went 9-1 in district.

In the 2019-2020 season, the Blizzards went 11-18 overall, while going 6-4 in district. What was the change, other than the new coach? If you ask Coach Holmes, the change is in the maturity level of his players, "Several of the players went from sophomores last year, to juniors this year. Their maturity level increased, overall."

Another factor that Holmes attributes the success to is the toughness of his players, "We preach mental toughness. The players have bought in to this." Holmes said that the teamwork has improved with the maturity and toughness, "The core of this group have been playing together since YMCA and youth leagues. This year we stressed knowing each other, how each teammate plays, their strengths and their weaknesses. Each player asks how they can make their teammate a better player. They trust one another."

Winters' Jon Kullen Busher works on a jump shot drill as head basketball coach Colton Holmes looks on.

While the Blizzards' defense is, arguably, the strongest part of their game, they have also improved substantially in ball security and passing. Holmes said that solid defensive play is more than just keeping the other team from making a basket, "You get good offense off of good defense."

This year the Blizzards have attempted few, if any, passes halfway across the court or other careless passes. The players, even when double-teamed, don't panic. There are no desperation passes attempted, the type of passes which are usually picked off and returned for layups on the other end of the court.

Senior-on-senior. The heart and the soul of the team, Alex Salas #21 and Malakye Kelly #3 work on a drill during practice.

The improvement in passing when in a bind is important. Also as important, perhaps more so, is their passing the ball when on offense. The team passes more this year than they have in recent years. Holmes says that the team has focused on making good passes, "It goes back to the maturity level of our players. Don't force the pass. The next pass you make is going to get the other guy open."

Practices are at full game-speed. They don't take it easy on each other, "In our practices, we try to do everything at game speed, with in-game scenarios and at game speed. We don't want to fade in the 4th period. We want to play hard for the full 4 periods." Practice includes taking charges, as well as hitting the hardwood to scramble for a loose ball. The players don't take it easy on each other. Steel sharpens steel.

Assistant coach Joseph Schumpert, who the players refer to as "coach Shump," helps keep the speed of the practices up. He works hard with the players during the drills that coach Holmes conducts. No one gets to take it easy, whether player or coach.

Taking turns. Malakye Kelly #3 catches some air working on a drill with Alex Salas #21.

The maturity level of the players translates into high caliber discipline. As practices are conducted, Holmes will stop play to point out something to an individual player. The rest of the players don't make small talk among themselves when the coach is talking to the other player. Each player stands silently, watching and listening. It would be disingenuous to chalk it up simply to "maturity." It's deeper than that; it's respect. It's apparent to anyone who spends 5 minutes with the team that the mutual respect between players and coach runs deep.

Holmes says that much of the success is due to the way the players listen, learn and make adjustments, "This team is very coachable, especially on the fly. Our players are great at finding their moments. They feed off of each other. Players like JK (Jon Kullen Busher) and Alex (Salas) can really get things going."

There have been instances in games this year where Blizzards players found themselves in a tough situation. Rather than calling a timeout, Holmes allowed the players to work through the problem on the court, solving the situation without the respite of a timeout. The players become their own problem solvers.

The story would be incomplete without interviewing the players themselves. When addressing the difference between this year's team and last year's team, senior stalwart Malakye Kelly says that much of the difference comes from within the players themselves, "This year, I think we just clicked, really. We already had the timing, but it's just more of the chemistry." Junior Mason Crowe adds, "It has developed over the time that we've all played together. We've been playing together since we were in 4th grade."

Jon Kullen Busher says that attention to detail helps, "A lot of it is the small things. We concentrate on doing the small things better."

Busher also commented on the team's collective basketball IQ increasing, "It's just been natural. We go to the park and play pickup games and have developed that way. We get better, together."

The players were asked what it was like having a new coach coming in. Kelly said that the team was looking forward to it, "We were excited for coach to come in. We were excited for the new game plan and for how he was going to coach us. No coach is the same. It's different this year and it's paid off."

In regards to facing challenges during the game, Busher says that falls onto the players, "We have to get it together and play basketball." Kelly agrees, "Coach says that it's about facing adversity and overcoming it. That's what we do."

Holmes addresses his players as practice wraps up, "You're going to screw up at times. I'm going to screw up at times. What is important is how we rebound and improve. It's up to each of us to improve." After he finishes speaking he gives each player a chance to speak up as well, to voice anything that might be on their minds.

Coach also offers a last bit of motivation on that Friday afternoon, "One of the great things about playoff basketball is the places you get to go and the great gyms that you get to play in. Seeing new places and playing in new gyms is exciting."

The Blizzards' team consists of 8 players and a coach, all equal parts, all equally respected, each of them ready to take the game to the next level.