|Saltillo Lions want State Basketball Championship|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Jan. 23, 2007 - SALTILLO - The Saltillo Lions set their sights high this season, and they have a daily reminder.
In their first meeting of the school year, the Lions talked at length about their goals for the season. Their main aspiration is framed and sits inside the door to their locker room. It simply says, "2007 Class A Division II State Basketball Champion."
"We have some other goals as far as defense and offense," said Saltillo head coach David Murphy, "but that's the big one."
The Lions have compiled an 18-5 record, including 9-0 in District 22-A, Div. II, and one of those wins was over Campbell, which was ranked No. 12 at the time. To continue their unbeaten district season, the Lions will have to get by Campbell again tonight.
The Lions host the Indians in both boys' and girls' games that match the top two teams in the district.
Murphy will rely once again on his three seniors who have come to the varsity squad through different venues.
Miles Payne is a four-year lettermen and the last remaining starter on the 2004 squad that made the playoffs, Travis Thompson rejoined basketball after taking a year off to concentrate on baseball, and Jimmy Methe is in his first year on varsity after three JV seasons.
"I think our kids play so hard - that's been a real pleasant thing to watch," said Murphy, who took over as head coach this year after being an assistant for several seasons at Saltillo. "They're a hard-nosed bunch of people and the core of them has always played real hard. We've taken that and tried to install offenses and defenses to fit the personnel, and, boy, they've just taken it and flown with it."
There's no denying that Payne is the sparkplug. He has scored in double figures in 20 games this season and had an extremely rare quadruple-double against Savoy.
"He started since he was a freshman in high school, and he's always had a flair for the spectacular, whether good or bad," Murphy said, chuckling. "Miles has been sort of 'the' kid in Saltillo since he was Little Dribblers' age. You know, everybody talked about Miles Payne.
"He started for our team here as a freshman, sophomore and junior, and has been one of our top scorers and top rebounders. He's a good athlete and very competitive. This year, he's doing the same things again, only better."
Despite his immense athletic skills, Payne's main attribute is his competitiveness, Murphy said.
"He is one of these kids who cannot stand to lose either individually or as a team," the coach explained. "That kind of attitude has caught and spread to other team members."
To be a good man-to-man defensive team, players have to have that bulldog mentality, and the Lions run man defense almost all the time.
"We'll pressure man-to-man, whether it's full floor, half floor or quarter floor," Murphy said. "The way they play is instinctive, and what we run has suited them real well, and they've been successful with it.
"I'd say defense is their strong suit. They'll get after you because they're a real alert, intense bunch of people."
Payne agreed that defense has been the key to the Lions' success.
"We had a good group coming back and everybody's playing their role. Coach Murphy has got us playing really good defense which is really shutting people down," Payne said. "If you can't score against us, you can't beat us.
"We like to practice. Practice makes perfect, but really, perfect practice makes perfect."
Payne takes his leadership mantle seriously. Saltillo has such a small school that there are always underclassmen on varsity, and Payne said he tries to help them get comfortable in their roles.
"I look at it that I'm the only returning senior on the varsity from last year. Being on the varsity for four years has given me some insight," he said. "We've got three juniors and two sophomores, and we're trying to help them. I've been there and done that and been in their shoes. I try to help them out, because we have to have the young people step it up, too."
Thompson saw some time on varsity in his freshmen and sophomore seasons, but didn't play last year. Instead, he lifted weights and got stronger for baseball.
That weight-lifting has paid off this year, too, for the 6-2 post.
"He's a good athlete," Murphy said. "He didn't play at all last year. This year, here's Travis again turning out for basketball. As it happens, it's been a real good thing for him and a real good thing for the team."
Thompson has given the team the interior defense and rebounding that the coach had hoped, and has also developed into 3-point threat.
"I'm got back into basketball this year because I missed it last year when I didn't do it," Thompson explained. "Really, I can do some stuff outside, like pass and shoot threes, but mainly I'm down low in the post."
Methe, on the other hand, plays guard and is counted on to shoot and handle the ball when he enters the game.
"We use him off the bench as a situational player. He doesn't always get a lot of minutes, but he will occasionally get a lot of minutes," Murphy said. "Jimmy is more of a shooter by nature, and he's given us good effort on defense, and he has helped us off the bench this year."
Methe knows his role and is suited to it.
"It's a team effort," he explained. "We each have our own roles. We're like a family and know what we need to do. I'm just glad to be part of the team with such great guys."
Methe scored a season-high five points against Roxton and has scored in five the team's nine district games. But, he said defense has been the Lions' mainstay.
"Our defense and team communication have helped," he explained. "The most important thing is team chemistry."