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Boys Basketball: Working toward the winter

Farmington basketball coach Shane Wyandt was facing a tough sell following the 2003-04 season.

After guiding the Tigers to a 1-24 record and a last-place finish in the Missota Conference in his first year at the helm, Wyandt had to convince his returning players that more off-season work would lead to more games in the win column the following winter.

"After a tough season we were nervous to see who would buy in. The sales pitch was not letting that ever happen again," Wyandt said. "The kids were on board with that. The kids that were into basketball wanted to play more."

And play more, they did. Farmington basketball players returned to the court for AAU basketball tournaments in the spring, played summer league basketball and participated in Wyandt's newly-instituted Basketball Academy in June and July before rebounding with a 10-16 campaign in 2004-05.

The team's win total has gone up every season since. And participation in all of the off-season basketball programs has remained high. Wyandt estimates this year there are 30 to 40 Farmington players competing in the AAU tournaments, 20 competing in the Apple Valley Summer League and 60 to 70 showing up for Basketball Academy at Farmington High School.

Basketball Academy, which Wyandt gives primary credit for his program's improvement, is a daily practice over the summer where players get together in the morning to play basketball, lift weights and complete a speed and agility program.

"That's probably our biggest thing. The summer league and tournaments are gravy on top of that," Wyandt said. "Those things are a huge part of why we've improved so much. We still had some good basketball players before I got here, but we haven't had it on multiple levels. Now, when you come into the gym during the summer you're going to see a good showing of basketball kids."

It wasn't always that way. When Wyandt took over in 2003, he was Farmington's third head boys basketball coach in four years. He said that turnover made it difficult for the Tigers to become consistent winners.

"It's pretty hard to have any type of program develop out of that. You don't generally see a team with a new coach and a new system join together and work well right away."

For the Tigers, the development process ended up taking five years. The team improved to 12-16 in Wyandt's third season, then to 13-14 in 2007-08 before going 20-8 last winter and winning the school's first Missota Conference basketball championship since 1962.

"I told last year's seniors and juniors that they were really the first two groups that bought into everything -- the tournaments, the summer leagues, the Basketball Academy -- and that group was conference champs," Wyandt said. "They had the talent and they worked for it. When talented kids are working hard then you've got something."

If the Tigers are going to match last year's success, they're going to have to work around the loss of those talented seniors. Jake Lippert and Josh Zitzmann were each 1,000-point scorers, Brent Beenken was the team's top three-point shooter and a solid rebounder, and David Steege was the team's starting center and leading shot blocker.

"You lose four guys that are all-conference type players and that's going to be pretty hard to replace," Wyandt said. "We've got some question marks, but this younger group has been good all the way through. The kids had success, but kind of flew under the radar because of those 1,000-point scorers. We feel pretty good, but we have to get everybody out."