Pike Lib looking to build a culture of success around basketball program

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Longtime veteran basketball coach Jonny Mitchell is taking over both the boys and girls basketball programs at Pike Liberal Arts School this season.

This is Mitchell’s 30th year as a basketball coach, having served the past seven seasons as the head boys’ basketball coach at Highland Home. Mitchell boasts a career basketball record of 438-353 and his 2021-2022 Highland Home squad made the Final Four for the first time in school history. This year, though, Mitchell will be coaching both the girls and boys teams.

“They all show up and work hard,” Mitchell said of his players. “We’re really inexperienced with the girls program and the younger guys. We have some older guys that have played some, which will help us on varsity.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We got a good bit done with the guys in the summer and I think they’re a little bit ahead of the curve because of that. We have some catching up to do, though, because of the lack of practice time coming out of football and volleyball season. I expect our junior varsity and varsity boys to be competitive and our younger boys and the girls have a lot of work to do to improve their skill level to get where we want to be.”

Junior Sawyer Keck comes to PLAS after playing at Pike Road as a junior. He, Slade Renfroe and Jackson Mitchell are expected to be leaders of the varsity boys teams.

“(Keck) will be a junior for us and will be a good player. Slade Renfroe will be a senior and is a good player for us,” Mitchell said. “Jackson Mitchell will be our point guard and I expect a lot out of him. There are several other guys that I think will step up as leaders but we have to get good play out of those three especially.”

Mitchell is clear that the Lady Patriots will come into 2023-2024 very young.

“We’ll play some young girls, some inexperienced girls this year,” Mitchell said. “The biggest thing with them is to build a foundation we can move forward with. That’s really the situation with the whole program. We have to get our youth program up to par and be competitive and our junior high programs have to improve. We’re not starting from scratch here but we have a lot of work to do to get the programs where we want them to be.”

As practices begin next week for both the girls and boys, Mitchell is concentrated on teaching the fundamentals to the younger players.

“We have to build up our skill level and improve on the fundamentals,” he said. “Passing, dribbling and learning how to play defense the right way are big right now. The older guys are ahead on that. Establishing a culture of basketball being important here is also something we have to work on. We have to do things the right way to be successful, whether that means offseason workouts and making the weight room a priority.”

While PLAS struggled last year in its first season in the AHSAA – after having plenty of success at the AISA level – Mitchell’s goals are about building that culture more than wins and losses.

“I hate to put a (win total) on anything (as a goal) but we want to establish a culture of how we’re going to do things and (basketball) being important. That’s the biggest goal,” he emphasized. “Every time we get on the floor we’re trying to win, though. Our goals are to be the best we can be and be competitive. The boys in the summer lost more games than they won but were in a lot of close games.

“The next step for them is to win some of those close games. I think the varsity boys are good enough that we can win and be able to compete in the area to make it into the playoffs. I don’t think that is beyond our reach. We don’t want to sit back and say, ‘We weren’t very good last year, so we don’t have any expectations.’ Our expectations are to be successful sooner rather than later.”

PLAS opens up the 2023-2024 basketball season on Nov. 13 on the road at Pleasant Home on Nov. 13 with both the girls and boys in action. The first home game is Nov. 14 against GW Long.