After graduating nine seniors off last year’s team, Live Oak High boys basketball coach Randy Bartholomew knows this season will have a lot of growing pains.
But the fourth-year Acorns coach also sees an opportunity for the players to learn, grow and develop into a more polished product by the midway point in the season.
“They’re going to have some major growing pains, but I’m just telling them we have to build, build, and build every single day,” he said. “We’ll build through practice and reps and competing through practice and hopefully we’ll have this sorted out and by league time, we should be ready to go.”
Live Oak entered the week 0-3 and without its full complement of players until seniors AJ Richards and Ulysses Beasley return (both are expected to be playing in games by mid-January). Richards, in particular, is a game changer as the team’s best player in getting to the basket off dribble penetration.
Richards and fellow senior guard Ryan Murray are the only two returning players who started several games last season. Murray is a high-energy player who does a lot of things well and brings intensity every time he’s on the court.
“Ryan is going to play hard every single night so I don’t have to worry about that,” Bartholomew said.
Beasley is a Santa Teresa High-transfer and is projected to be a difference-maker as well.
“He’s a pretty good defender and it’ll give us another ball-handler which we desperately kind of need,” Bartholomew said. “We need to take Ryan off the ball and need to have that ball-handler initiate the offense and get us going a little bit.”
Bartholomew said Richards has improved his outside jumper, which should make him a more balanced threat. Last year, defenders could sag off Richards in anticipation of him driving to the basket. But if Richards has a jumper that opponents have to respect, it’ll make his dribble-drive ability that much more potent and open up the team’s scoring ability from close and long range.
“Over the summer, AJ definitely worked a lot on his jump shot,” Bartholomew said. “He already had the attacking the basket mentality, so we’re looking forward to him being back for game competition.”
Keaton Dietz, a 6-foot-2 junior forward, has the capability of getting hot from 3-point range. He drained three shots from outside the arc in the season-opener against Oakwood on Nov. 29 before going 1-for-7 from 3-point range the next night in a 58-51 loss to Gilroy High.
“Keaton is definitely not afraid to let it go,” Bartholomew said. “He was a little off tonight [against Gilroy], but he’s definitely a corner 3 guy so I don’t mind him letting it go because he can get on a roll.”
Live Oak displayed plenty of fight and spirited play against Gilroy and led 11-7 after the first quarter. But the Acorns were outscored 24-12 in the second despite landing in the double bonus with 4 minutes, 25 seconds remaining until halftime.
In some games, neither team will land in the double bonus in either half, so for good free throw shooting teams, inheriting the double bonus is a big advantage. Live Oak finished 16-for-24 from the line, or 66.6 percent.
Dietz was the only player in double figures, finishing with 12 points. Three other players—Murray, Riley Murrill and Devon DeHaro—had eight points each and Ray Ramirez added seven points. Sophomore guard Adria Tomey had a couple of strong drives to the basket and was active defensively.
Fellow sophomore Murrill showed flashes of solid play as well. And senior guard Sam Decker was active on the glass. Before their Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa Division opener against Evergreen Valley on Jan. 4, Bartholomew would like to see the players develop in key areas.
“I want to see them continue to compete and learn how to play,” he said. “Learning how to play at this speed, learning how to play this physicality. Once we do that, we’ll be OK.”