For the second straight season, Howard boys basketball has only one senior on the roster. But this year is different.
After winning only seven games in 2017-18, the Huskies have improved to 16-11 this season and have a Sweet 16 match-up with Carver Thursday at 7 p.m. in Columbus.
Led by six juniors, Howard has bought a team-first mentality to win games this season.
“When you have a group of kids who do that and form that as a whole, it turns things around real quick,” said head coach Jay Lunce. “They buy into the system, and that was the main thing.”
But it hasn’t always been that way. Junior point guard Collin Tarver said last year the team tried to play as individuals all the time — it didn’t work.
“The biggest success from this year from last year is that we play as a team and not as one,” Tarver said. “We play together in all our games.”
Having kids buy into the system has been a process. Before last season, several players transferred out of the program, leading Lunce to bring up a lot of sophomores who would normally play junior varsity.
“We just decided, ‘Let’s just go with it. We have this young group. They’re buying into everything,’” Lunce said. “Sometimes, it’s not a year-to-year thing. You have to look in the future and say, ‘We have to build this group. This is the team we’re looking for.’”
Lunce said the team took its “licks” last year, but used it as a year to grow and allow the sophomores to become accustomed to the speed of varsity basketball. When mentioning players who make a large impact on the team, Lunce listed off nearly the entire team.
“When someone asks, ‘Coach, who is your superstar?’ I don’t have one. All of them bring something really big to the table,” Lunce said.
Tarver seconded his coach. “Everybody’s a superstar on our team,” Tarver said. “We don’t have that one person. It’s everybody.”
Learning from its mistakes last season, the team has taken on this team-first attitude, led by Tarver at point guard.
“My mindset is to get the ball to my scorers as much as I can — as much opportunity as they can get first,” Tarver said.
And Tarver said Howard will aim to keep playing its brand of basketball in the playoffs when the Huskies face Carver Thursday.
Lunce said the team isn’t satisfied yet.
“Where we are now is not good enough,” Lunce said. “Sweet 16 is not good enough.”