Most students are sleeping or just waking up at 5:50 a.m. on a school day.
But before the sun is even up, Shoemaker junior Nasir Kirk is in the Grey Wolves gym working on some aspect of his game because the bi-district double-overtime 61-60 loss to seventh-ranked Duncanville in February still stings.
“They all remember it,” said coach Brandon Gilbert.
Shoemaker graduated just two seniors from last year’s playoff team and this year’s 10 seniors, along with Kirk, haven’t forgotten that loss.
Romeo Postell’s parents gave him a gift after the loss, one the senior forward used for motivation this summer.
“After that game they made a shirt for me,” said Postell. “It says ‘61-60. What will you do?’
“That pushed me to work harder during the offseason, so when the time comes again, we’ll be ready for it.”
With that constant reminder, Postell has worked on his shot and ball handling, as he anticipates having to play guard at the next level.
Senior forward J’Wan Roberts, who signed with the University of Houston earlier this month, also spent the offseason improving his shot to open up his game and be able to score in a variety of ways.
“Last year, I know I hardly took any shots,” Roberts admitted.
Gilbert led Shoemaker to the playoffs in his first season with the team, and with a taste of the postseason still left in the Wolves’ mouths, they want more.
“The goal is to go deeper in the playoffs now,” said Gilbert. “We made it one round, and this year, with the group of guys we’ve got, the plan is to make a run, stay strong and keep getting better every day.”
The Wolves are 7-1 heading out of the Thanksgiving break, but that playoff loss continues to haunt and motivate them nine months later.
“We lost 61-60 to a team that wasn’t better than us,” said Roberts. “We’ve got to move on from that, benefit from it and go deeper in the playoffs for our senior year.”
Every player will have to do their part in order for the team to have a chance to make the postseason now that District 12-6A has grown to nine teams with only four playoff slots.
With district play just two weeks out, and with such a senior-heavy class, each Grey Wolf is finding his position in the pack.
“Identifying roles is the issue right now,” explained Gilbert. “Who does what, who is supposed to get the ball in this situation, so that’s what we’re really focusing on right now.
One area of the game Shoemaker continues to improve in is talking on the court.
“I don’t know why, but communication is one of the hardest things for us to do,” Kirk admitted. “But that’s one of our focuses right now, to communicate.
“When it comes to game time we don’t communicate effectively, so that’s something we’re working on in practice every day, repetition and communicating.”
Postell and Roberts both admit that in the heat of the moment, in-game hesitation to yell commands on the court stems from the fear of crossing personal lines with their teammates.
“With us being all friends and being in high school, when somebody that’s around our age is yelling at them or something, they don’t look at is as constructive criticism,” explained Postell. “They may think of it as trying to get on them or be mean, but that’s not the case.
“We’re just trying to help our team win and do what we can on the court to be a better team, not to cause harm or fights.”
Yet, both seniors know they have to lead by their actions.
“We have underclassmen that look up to us,” said Roberts. “So if we don’t talk, they’re not going to talk; if we don’t work hard, they’re not going to work hard. So we have to set the example for them on and off the court.
“We have to let the underclassmen look up to us and if they need anything they know that we can help them out and that we can be somebody they can rely on, especially on the court.”
Kirk knows the Wolves will be forced to be more vocal and not rely just on signals.
“We have to communicate or else we’re going to get lost on the floor,” noted Kirk. “But I look forward to it. We live for the big moments.”
Gilbert has one concern with the district’s new doubleheader format. Varsity boys games are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, following the varsity girls games. The potential of overtime in the girls’ games could push the boys nightcaps as late as 8:30.
“That’s my only concern,” said Gilbert. “It’s going to be some tough nights playing that late, but they’re kids, they’ll get used to it.
“As coaches, we have to find another way to strategize and rest our kids ... I know for me, I have to find a quiet area before the game to put my guys in and, hopefully, they can relax because it’s going to be real chaotic on game days everywhere, probably.”
Despite their returning experience and Roberts making a name for himself on the offseason circuit, the 16th-ranked Wolves started the season unranked. That all changed with a hot start that included double-digit wins over 5A-No. 11 San Antonio Wagner, then-No. 7 South Grand Prairie and a nine-point road victory last week at No. 24 Pflugerville Hendrickson.
Even Shoemaker’s lone loss was impressive, a two-point setback to 5A’s top-ranked Justin Northwest at Northwest’s tournament.
“Last year, we were hunting (a playoff spot) and now, we’re the hunted,” Postell said. “So we’re ready for whoever comes at us.”
Shoemaker opens district play Dec. 4 against Temple at home.
SHOEMAKER UPCOMING GAMES
Tuesday: at 5A-No. 8 Bryan Rudder, 6:30 p.m.
Thursday: vs. 3A-No. 4 Dallas Madison in Mansfield ISD Spring Creek Barbeque Classic, 1:30 p.m. at Mansfield Legacy HS
Friday-Saturday: vs. TBD in Mansfield ISD Spring Creek Barbeque Classic
Dec. 4: vs. Temple in District 12-6A opener, 8 p.m.