When is the absolute worst time of day to play a basketball game? This question is posed every December at the Norm Stewart Classic. This year, the Harrisburg boys team learned the correct answer is 3 a.m.
Starting at 5 p.m. Friday and ending at 6 p.m. Sunday, the 2019 Classic pit 47 high school hoops teams against each other in one marathon of a weekend: 48 hours, 24 games, back-to-back-to-back. Consequently, some teams play at more desirable times than others; this year Harrisburg pulled the shortest straw and played Calvary Lutheran at 3 a.m. Saturday morning.
Most of the Bulldogs’ regular-season games are scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. How does the team prepare to start a seven and a half hours later?
Preparation starts far in advance of the ungodly tip-off time. Harrisburg coach Kyle Fisher says that being well-rested is essential for any game, but this one especially.
“We actually talked about two nights in advance is the biggest night (to get rested),” Fisher said. “Anytime we play at 3 a.m., it’s even more important (than the night preceding).”
“It comes down to getting the right sleep in the days beforehand,” said senior captain Jonah Sanford. “Eating right, drinking right, just preparing mentally.”
Before every game, Fisher gathers as much scouting information as he can and the one at Mizzou Arena is no different. The coach talks to other coaches who have played his opposition for any helpful intel and does his best to watch a game himself. Sometimes he’ll gather film, but for Calvary Lutheran, Fisher typed up a two-page stapled packet for every member of his team.
The Bulldogs played at a similar time in last year’s classic, so Fisher says the team has developed a bit of a strategy for the day of the game, starting with a low-intensity workout the night of the contest.
At Friday’s midnight walk-through his squad lined up along the baseline while Fisher talked through the information in his scouting packet.
“It tells us a lot about the other team and gets us ready for the game later,” sophomore Jace Carr said.
Fisher says the team uses the walk-though to get focused on basketball and the game ahead. Harrisburg practices a run-through before every game, but more importance is placed on the shootaround on the night of the Classic.
The team goes over its own offensive plays and defensive sets, using the scout squad to mimic opposing teams’ movements. This way the varsity players have an idea of how to guard the other team at full speed.
The half-hour bus ride to Columbia rang with chatter from the athletes. The players had slept all they could before the walkthrough, and instead of resting, the athletes discussed playing at Mizzou Arena, one of the largest gyms where any of them had played. The upcoming matchup was also a topic of discussion.
When it arrived in Columbia the squad lounged in the near-empty seats of Mizzou Arena, watching the Tolton girls team finish its own awfully-scheduled game, losing handly to St. Joseph’s Academy.
The warmups were the same as any game. Layup lines led to a pregame talk where Fisher spoke again about the game plan.
After scoring the first basket, Harrisburg looked lethargic, giving up an 11-0 Lions run. The players were noticeably sluggish, but energy came from some key substitutions and the Bulldogs closed the first quarter trailing only by three. Harrisburg took the lead before halftime and held it for the rest of the game. Calvary Lutheran kept the game close, but Harrisburg’s preparation showed and the Bulldogs eventually won 62-58.
“We were ready to play but they were just more ready to start,” said the Gary Filbert player of the game Tanner Lanes. “The bench came up clutch.”
Lanes credits lockdown defenders Wyatt Robinson and Trevor Wheeler with the success as well as sharpshooting from the Brayden Ott.
Fisher says the team will “absolutely” appear in the Classic next year.
“As long as they invite us back, we’ll be here,” he said.
As for the time of day?
“We’ve gone 2 a.m. last year, 3 a.m. this year, but I don’t want to get used to this time slot,” Fisher said. “I like a noontime slot or something where we can get a little sleep. But we’ll play wherever they put us.”
Visuals produced by Jacob Moscovitch.