It's safe to say that the 7-1 Eldon Mustangs are much more cohesive as a team than they were a year ago. Win/loss records aside, their style of play and stat spreads show a newfound unity for the EHS boys' basketball team. Flash back to January of 2011. The Mustangs blew a 14-point halftime lead and lost 60-52 to a visiting Linn team. Frustration over his team's lack of chemistry poured from the mouth of Eldon head coach Jim Lincoln, who openly challenged someone to step up.
It's safe to say that the 7-1 Eldon Mustangs are much more cohesive as a team than they were a year ago. Win/loss records aside, their style of play and stat spreads show a newfound unity for the EHS boys' basketball team.
Flash back to January of 2011. The Mustangs blew a 14-point halftime lead and lost 60-52 to a visiting Linn team. Frustration over his team's lack of chemistry poured from the mouth of Eldon head coach Jim Lincoln, who openly challenged someone to step up.
"I don't have a leader. Put it in the paper. I don't have a leader. I don't have a 'go-to' guy on this basketball team," Lincoln said directly after the pivotal loss. He then elaborated on his team's locker room hierarchy with a paradoxical statement.
"We all think we're the man, but nobody is really the man."
Flash forward to the present day, where it seems everyone is really the man. On any given night, any player in the lineup can and has taken charge. Ryan Kliethermes and John Hall had double-doubles in a 22-point win against Fulton. On Dec. 16, Zach Shreve shocked the Eldon faithful when he rained down 25 points against North Callaway. On Dec. 6, Sam Lincoln drained a 3-pointer to score his 13th point of the night and seal a 55-48 win against Camdenton.
Aside from open challenges, Lincoln attributes Eldon's basketball surge to hard work from his entire varsity rotation. The veteran coach isn't afraid to use his bench in his third season with the Mustangs, because even the guys on the bench work on basketball outside of practice.
"Saturday night at 6 o'clock, I had nine basketball players in the gym shooting baskets. Then they all went out to one kid's house and his dad barbecued for all of them, and they all spent the night together. That's the difference. They're starting to come together as a team," Lincoln said.
The Mustangs use an aggressive style of defense to carve out wins. To compensate for Eldon's lack of size or a true center, Coach Lincoln sent a letter to St. Nicholas.
"I sent my list to Santa for a big man, about 6'6" or 6'7," and I'm going to hope on Christmas when I wake up he's under the tree," Lincoln joked.
If Santa inexplicably fails to deliver, the Mustangs defense will stay aggressive inside as the playoffs approach. Eldon's forwards will position themselves between taller opponents and perimeter ball handlers. A pass inside will trigger a trap or a double team.
"We can't play passive defense, or when it comes down to districts, like Blair Oaks, they're going to pound it inside and kill us. We have to offset our non-true post players," Lincoln said.
Blair Oaks, Helias and Hickman all boast centers taller than 6'5."
While Lincoln celebrates the holiday season with his family, the Mustangs will be given a week off of organized practice. Some players, like Kliethermes, Brad Dinwiddie, Logan Shinn and Jamin Pyatt haven't had much time to themselves since football workouts began in the late summer. Players will return to an optional practice on Jan. 3.
Though Lincoln isn't organizing practices, he says he won't be surprised if the Mustangs get together for some open gym days without their coach over the holiday break.
"They need some time where they can go shoot and have fun if they want to get up and down the court and play, instead of crazy, psycho, bald-headed me over there yelling and screaming at them," Lincoln said.
While Lincoln is still known for animated body language, sharp sayings, loud voice and larger-than-life facial expressions, he seems to smile more this season.
Eldon's boys' basketball team returns to action Jan. 5, at a home date with Hickman. From Jan. 26-28, Eldon plays host to the 81st annual Eldon Invitational Tournament.