Senior Jarrod Lindsey could experience his first winning season at Grady. The Bronchos are 13-8. (CNJ staff photo)
By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer
In the 1990s, a conversation about Class 1A boys basketball in New Mexico usually started with Grady.
From 1993 to 1998 the Bronchos advanced to every state championship game but one and won the state title in 1995 under current Clovis coach J.D. Isler.
But Isler left and the past three years have brought two coaches and no winning seasons. The closest they got was 14-14 last year.
In stepped veteran coach Jim Kneipp, who preaches teamwork and discipline. The results have been eye-catching as the Bronchos have won six of their last seven games and were 13-8 heading into Saturday’s game at House.
“It’s been a complete major overhaul teaching job,” said Kneipp, who coached basketball at Grady for two seasons in the early 1970s.
Grady is a special place for Kneipp, who most recently coached baseball for 18 years at East Texas Baptist University. Grady’s where his son was born, so he decided to come back.
After watching some tape of last year’s team, Kneipp knew it would take some work to get the team where he wanted it to be.
“We had the heart,” sophomore Steven Carter said. “We just didn’t have the skills.”
That included the basics, from shooting form to dribbling to defensive.
“The biggest thing I’ve had to battle is getting them to get down and play some defense,” said Kniepp, who also made several coaching stops at eastern New Mexico and West Texas schools before moving to the college ranks in 1983.
Looking at tape from last year, Kneipp said he’d watch opponents go from endline to endline and lay the ball up with little resistance. He said it took a few games for the Bronchos to catch on to what good man-to-man defense meant.
“We didn’t believe him at the beginning of the year,” junior Robert Windham said. “Nobody on our team really noticed how poorly we did play defense until we saw it on some tapes.”
Then came offense.
Last year, Windham said players were selfish.
“It was more of who could score high point than who could play as a team,” Windham said.
That selfish play fostered a negative environment, occasionally leading to fights among players, according to senior Jarrod Lindsey.
Kneipp wouldn’t allow the selfishness to continue, installing a motion offense in which four or five passes in every possession have become habit.
“He’s taught us to watch the game to move to an open area,” Carter said of Kneipp. “It was simple stuff, and the more you did it, the more common sense it seemed.”
The Bronchos have become so adept at finding the open man, they’re shooting 49 percent from inside the 3-point arc. “That’s unheard of,” Kneipp said.
The success bred confidence in each other.
“I trust anyone on our team can do the job,” junior Domingo Diaz said, something he didn’t do last year.
Windham, Diaz, Colt Grau and Lindsey all average double-figures points, while freshman Brian Blackburn, sophomores Jett Sours and Trenton Whitehead and Carter average at least five points.
Kneipp preaches balanced scoring.
“That way, no one would know who to concentrate on,” he said.
Kneipp’s influence has changed more than the Bronchos’ basketball fortunes. Kneipp said officials have told him during games how much better they behave.
“I want them to earn the respect of other people,” something Kneipp has already earned of his players.
“I wouldn’t want to play for another team or another coach,” Diaz said.