Park City boys basketball is undergoing a culture change that includes learning how to win close games
It’s been five years since the Park City boys basketball team ended the year with a winning record. Over that time period, the Miners went a combined 20-66 under two different head coaches, establishing a culture that wasn’t proving to be very competitive.
So when Thomas Purcell earned the head coaching position a mere week before the start of the season, he knew instantly that one of his most challenging tasks was going to be changing the mindset of the Miners.
“Everyone always think its either the last shot or last play of the game that determines the outcome, but that’s a total fallacy,” Purcell said. “I think it’s the little plays that add over the course of the game that add up to determine the outcome. I think we had lapses physically and mentally last year that we cannot have this year, but having correct energy and correct effort and a lot of that stuff takes care of itself.”
Through the first five games of the season, Purcell may have succeeded in changing that mindset. The Miners sit at 3-2, their best record through five games since their last winning season.
Last Thursday facing Judge Memorial, ranked No. 5 in the Class 3A RPI ranking, the Miners fell behind 21-6 at the end of the first quarter, and trailed by 17 early in the second.
But Purcell and his boys didn’t panic, rather a timeout was called and instead of yelling at the boys for the deficit, Purcell was calm.
“I told them that they was you get back into the game isn’t with a 17-point shot because there isn’t such a thing,” Purcell said. “You get back into the game with a 2-point shot and a stop, a 2-point shot and a stop. … And then the score goes from 17 to 10, 10 to 5 and eventually 5 to zero. It’s hard because you have to make stop after stop, so took a while, but 17 points is a lot to overcome.”
And overcome is what the Miners did.
Park City outscored Judge Memorial 50-27 over the next two quarters to lead 55-50 with just over four minutes to play in the fourth — a sign of how things have changed for the Miners.
According to some of the players, Park City wouldn’t have been able to come back from a deficit that large, let alone against a team as talented as Judge Memorial.
Although Park City would lose the game, allowing Judge to go on a 16-0 run to end the game, the change under Purcell has already started to pay dividends. He has the boys believing that regardless of what the past records may say, this year’s team is a good one.
“We are a good basketball team and that’s what I told the boys, but Judge is also a good team and last night we let one get away,” Purcell said afterward. “Last night was a tough night, a long night for sure. … But even though we lost, I think it made us a better team.”
The next step for the Miners will now be about learning how to win, particularly in close games. It’s not just good enough to want to win, Purcell believes the Miners have reached the point where they should walk into any gym expecting to win.
As multiple players and Purcell noted the day after the loss, Park City should’ve beaten Judge Memorial, but free throw struggles were ultimately their undoing.
“Leading by five midway through fourth and on the foul line, if those foul shots go down, I think we win the game,” Purcell said. “But we missed them, and because we shot 50% last night from the foul line, in close games that hurts. We have to improve or we will have a lot of trouble in close games.”
Purcell knows the Miners are capable of closing out close games, as it’s how they got their first win of the season. Leading by three entering the fourth quarter against Snow Canyon in the season-opener, Park City outscored the Warriors 21-16 in the final frame by knocking down its free throws and not turning the ball over.
“We talk about execution a lot and against Snow Canyon, we executed extremely well so that’s more of what I expected,” Purcell said. “You can put it on coach for not having them ready to play in beginning of game and again on the coach for not having them ready to execute at end of game. The good news is that boys have the character and heart to bounce back, and I fully expect them too.”
The Miners will have a few days off for Christmas before returning to action on Saturday against Highland High School in Idaho.
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“We can’t keep kicking this thing down the road. The longer we do, the longer it’s going to take to come out the other side.”