Forget all the talk about team-building, University High School junior guard Zoe Scott insists. Other teams can worry about team-building exercises as a way of fostering a cohesive basketball team.
Year in and year out, Scott said, the Titans set out to become more than just a team.
They set out to become family.
“When I was a freshman, we had two great senior leaders on the team: Angie (Bjorklund) and Leah (Archibald),” she said. “They made sure that I was invited to everything the team did, whether it was a formal team event or just a bunch of us hanging out. They made sure that they talked to me in the halls during the day to see how I was doing and if I needed anything.
“On the court, whether I had a good game or a bad game, they made sure they talked to me and encouraged me. If I had a bad game, they always talked about it with me and tried to give me some pointers so that I could improve.
“When you have people like that behind you, when you know that they absolutely have your back on the floor and off, then you have something more. It is a family.”
That senior class left some big shoes to fill, but the Titans carry on that family tradition.
The building process has been a season-long effort this season, Scott explained. But the Titans are there.
“It’s just been the last couple weeks where I feel like we got there, but we have and it’s a great feeling,” she said. “We were joking just the other day that we all wanted to get a house together because we don’t want this feeling of closeness to ever go away.”
The Titans’ play on the court bears that out. U-Hi won five of its past six games. University coach Mark Stinson isn’t surprised by his guard’s attention to detail.
“I have Zoe in my home room and I’ve gotten to know her very well since she was a freshman,” he said. “She’s always been very goal-oriented and extremely focused on improving her own game and helping her teammates improve. She studies hard, she works hard, but she’s just a fun kid to have around.”
Scott has been a solid contributor on the court this season, averaging more than 12 points per game, including a 22-point effort against Rogers and a 19-point night in the Titans first meeting with North Central.
“The great thing about this team is that anyone can have a big night for us and handle the bulk of the scoring,” Scott said. “For us, the key is in how we go out and play defense. Most of what we do on offense grows out of how we’re playing on defense.”
The Greater Spokane League schedule, however, has a trick or two left up its sleeve for University. The final regular season game will be the annual Stinky Sneaker game Tuesday at the Arena, with the team holding the bye for the final round of regular-season games.
“I cannot think of another time when this has happened, when we’ve had the rivalry game as the last game of the season,” U-Hi coach Mark Stinson said. “That, in and of itself, is weird. Having the bye for the last night of the regular season is strange, too.”
The Stinky Sneaker is more than just a rivalry basketball series between University and Central Valley. It’s a full-blown event, with a week of spirit-building activities planned at both schools. While the players show up in uniforms, everyone else shows up in costume for the game. It’s worth the price of a ticket into the Arena just to watch the festivities, let alone to watch two basketball games.
“It’s a little frightening, to be honest,” Stinson said. “This year, especially, there are playoff implications riding on this game. It can be really hard, as a coach, to know if your team is focused on the game, on the event or on the playoffs.”
Scott understands the distractions inherent in a game like the Stinky Sneaker.
“I try not to watch any of the other stuff during the game,” she said. “I just try to concentrate on the game and on what I need to do to help my teammates.
“But at the same time, I’m glad we have the early game so I can get back out, sit in the stands and enjoy the boys game.”
She gives the same advice to her teammates.
“We only have a couple girls who have played in this game before, so I tell them to not get distracted,” she said. “Whether we win or lose, I want us to come out of that game feeling like we gave it our very best effort and that we left everything we have to give out there on the floor.”
From a team standpoint, she said, the Titans are in playoff mode.
“Our coach came out this week and he told us that we were going to start treating every game now as a playoff game,” she said. “We’re trying to get locked in and make each one of these remaining games count.”