by WES FERGUSON
Lobo coach Thomas Acker is looking further into the future this summer as he aims to build Lehman High’s boys basketball program into a playoff contender.
Acker runs a basic training camp at Lehman High School each June to hammer home the Lobos’ terminology, concepts and hoops essentials, from footwork to reading defenses and finishing around the basket. In years past, he geared the camp toward incoming freshmen, but this year he opened the four-day event to middle-school students as well.
The camp drew 63 young basketball players from schools that feed into Lehman High as well as from the high school’s ninth grade. The point? To bring young Lobos into the fold earlier to prepare them for future varsity careers.
“Getting a connection and a rapport with future Lobos is extremely important to build our program — letting them feel comfortable coming to the Lehman High School gym itself and giving us the opportunity to work with their skill levels to teach fundamentals and concepts of basketball that they will continue to hear through the years,” Acker said.
In an age of sports specialization, he added, players must dedicate far more of their time than the season and preseason to honing their skills. Elite basketball now requires a year-round commitment.
The extra effort is especially important in Kyle, which has not traditionally been a basketball town, he said.
“We’re still a community where kids don’t play when the middle school or high school season is over,” Acker said. “This is a ground-up approach, and I personally feel our program has got to do more of it to get our kids acclimated to playing basketball.”
Focusing on individual skills in the morning and teamwork and competitions in the afternoon, former Lobos Dane Peddycoart and Tyler Castillo, both 2011 graduates, helped Acker run the camp along with Robbie Hanley, a 2007 graduate who was Lehman’s first valedictorian and played college ball at Southwestern in Georgetown.
“It speaks highly of those guys who want to come back and still be part of the program,” Acker said. “It bridges the gap from groups that have gone through the program to what these campers are fixing to go through. I want to pay respect to what they’ve done, because we are who we are because those guys did such a great job of making us that.”
Current Lobo players feel that legacy as they work this summer lifting weights, training, and playing when the school’s gym is open, said incoming senior and team leader De’Andre Carson. Carson and Manny Santibanez are among Lobos playing on organized summer league teams.
“We played one tournament as a team right after school ended, and we’ve been playing in open gym,” Carson said. “I keep encouraging (younger players) to make the commitment, because I’ve been in that position before and I actually experienced what they’re going through. Mostly I’m trying to get them ready for next year.
“My goal is to make the playoffs no matter what, so anything I have to do to help my teammates, I’m going to do it.”
Acker said that 6-foot-1 post Robert Salinas, an incoming sophomore, improved the most during spring workouts, which is important because he will be called on to fill a void left by Jamael Windom, a productive departing senior.
“Robert has really worked on his perimeter game. I’d say he’s by far our toughest and strongest, most physical player inside,” Acker said. “He doesn’t back down to anybody. We’ll have to see where he fits in the best and whether he can be more of a stretch post who can play outside, or whether we’ll have to limit him to playing inside.”
Founded in 2006-07, the Lobos reached the playoffs two years ago before falling short in 2011-12. And when the upcoming season is here, Acker hopes to see a few students from Simon, Wallace and Chapa middle schools rooting on their team, too.
“A lot of those guys hadn’t seen us play on Tuesday or Friday nights,” Acker said. “Now that we’ve built the connection I’ll remember them, see them, shake their hands and say, ‘Are you coming to watch us play?’ I just think that’s something we need.”