Gilroy's Miika Smith recovers a rebound during a drill at
music in the park san jose

Clocking in for another two-hour shift inside the gymnasium at Gilroy High, sounds of sneakers squeaking on the hardwood, dribbling basketballs and the booming voice of GHS varsity boys head coach Matt Tait fills the empty air. It’s the indoor, sporting version of a construction site – all business with work in progress building toward a final product.

Echoes of the classic “Whistle Why You Work” aren’t likely, though.

Wednesday’s practice schedule, which was posted on the wall under the south-facing hoop, presented a laundry list of drills that left little room to rejoice in the inevitable workload that lay ahead.

“We took the pads back out this week and went back to finishing school, is what we like to call it,” Tait said as his Mustangs took a much-appreciated albeit brief water break, which was mostly spent studying what was left on the day’s agenda. “They do layup drills every day where we just hit them with pads the whole way (up the court) and they have to finish. It’s a mental and physical thing. It’s not that they can’t make a layup. But in a game situation, with bodies everywhere, they aren’t. So hopefully this helps them with their finishing.”

The objective of each drill is simple. The laborious route to completing the tasks is more of a longterm reward in the way of victories.

“It’s a hard-hat team – blue collar,” Tait said. “This is a good group.”

Hampered by injuries and shooting woes, the Mustangs have had to fight through a slow start to the 2011-12 campaign. They entered Thursday’s opening round of the Bob Hagen Memorial Tournament at 1-4. Though the Mustangs list 10 seniors on the roster, just four return from last season’s varsity club that finished 15-11 and qualified for the Central Coast Section playoffs. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is the departure of point guard Cameron Yawary and center Chima Ikeme. Yawary, the team’s offensive catalyst a year ago, averaged 21 points a night for the Mustangs.

“We don’t have a star, so they are going to have to earn their success as a group,” Tait said.

Asked to summarize his team, Tait said, “We are undersized but they work hard.”

The players grasp an understanding of what has to be done in order to compete in the Tri-County Athletic League with the likes of Palma, Salinas and San Benito. Knowing they must make up for team shortcomings isn’t as daunting to the Mustangs as it may sound. Each has his responsibility – his piece to the puzzle.

“We are really young, we are super young,” starting senior point guard Stefan Mercer said. “We are progressing but it’s slow, which we expected. We will get there. Since we are so young, fundamentals and developing our skills are going to be huge for us.”

Mercer, Charles Walker and Jonathan Lester return as the most experienced Mustangs. Senior Greg Spellman, a perimeter threat, and junior Brendan Holler, who will see plenty of time at one of the forward spots, are both welcomed additions from last season’s junior varsity team. Senior Christian Goldstein, fresh off of an all-league football season, will be one of the Mustangs’ top offensive weapons, while freshman Miika Smith is coach Tait’s biggest post player.

“We have a lot of bodies, but it’s going to take a total team effort from them,” Tait said. “We are going to get all that we can out of them. They understand that it will be a fight all year and they are plugging away.”

The Mustangs host Live Oak tonight in the opening round of the Bob Hagen Memorial Tournament at 6:30 p.m. Results will be posted after the game.

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