Jerrod Stanford, entering his sixth year at the helm of the Labette Cardinals men’s basketball program, did what many tried during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the solitude of social distancing, Stanford reinvented himself. He’s lost over 40 pounds and changed his sporadic approach to schemes.
“I’m loving life and kicking ass,” Stanford said. “The hope is that carries over to the team. When COVID first hit, I threw my back out because I was so stressed. But I realized that all I can control is me. So I started challenging myself.”
The new leaf Stanford feels he’s turned will hopefully carry over to a team that finished 17-13 last year and made the semifinals of the Region VI Tournament.
“We feel really good,” Stanford said. “We’re really prepared. I looked at the pandemic as an opportunity to reflect and refocus and look at the history of this program. We figured out what we’ve done well, what we haven’t and avoid any traps that we have created for ourselves.”
The NJCAA moved nearly all sports to the spring semester in an effort to guard against the virus. That’s given Stanford a chance to refocus his coaching tactics.
“One of the major shortcomings for myself was focusing on results,” Stanford said. “If something was a result I didn’t like, I had a knee-jerk reaction and a complete overhaul in the middle of the season. I’ve come to settle on a strategy that’s best for this team to be successful.”
One of the most highly anticipated returns to the Labette roster is point guard Ghage Kenan. In his third year in Parsons, Kenan missed last season due to injury.
In his freshman campaign in 2018-19, Kenan averaged 8.5 points and was one of two primary ballhandlers for the Cardinals when KJCCC play arrived.
“His freshman year, he was a spot-up shooter and lockdown defender,” Stanford said. “Now at 21 years old, he’s a complete player that will have a big year. I expect that from him.”
One of the oldest players in the entire athletic department, Kenan is the bonafide leader in the locker room.
“He’s a man in our program that handles his responsibilities,” Stanford said. “He’ll have a chance to walk out of here with two degrees. His game has progressed greatly.”
Bryson Dennis is Labette’s only returning player that saw the floor in 2019-20. A guard, Dennis averaged 10.2 points per game. He shined late for the Cardinals, reaching double figures in each of the last four games of the year.
“Bryson didn’t waste COVID time,” Stanford said. “He faced adversity and came out the other side as a different human. He’s a mature man now. He’s got an opportunity to be an electric player for us.”
The Cardinals will also feature a local product in Parsons High School graduate Pierce Thomas. A center who set the record for most blocked shots in a single season at Parsons, Thomas is expected to see the floor often for Labette.
“We didn’t know who he would be as a player,” Stanford said. “What we found out really quickly was that he’s an intelligent man with a high IQ. He grasps things quickly and can execute what he’s being asked to do. I fully expect him to be a part of the rotation.”
Other players on the Labette Roster include Koi Jackson (Olathe), Daniel Jackson (Georgia), Kefa Sampson (Georgia), Devin Longstreet (Georgia), Mohamad Diallo (Georgia), Peyton Price (Kingman), Jeromond Mosley II (Missouri), Darrius Smith (Georgia), Lorenzo Wilkerson (Georgia) and Ignatius Patt (Louisiana).
“We’ve got five guards that can go make plays,” Stanford said. “We’ve got great wings on the side and some seven-footers. We like our athleticism and can really run the floor. We like the versatility of this group and we can be dynamic.”
The Cardinals got the full allotted 60 days of practice in during the fall.
“We didn’t miss a day,” Stanford said. “We had zero quarantines in the fall. I asked them not to be out partying. So I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since they’ve been on campus. I can’t put myself in situations to be quarantined if they’re living their lives to avoid it.”
Finding the right niche of starters and sixth men will be Stanford’s biggest hurdle early.
“What’s going to be a challenge for us is finding rotations that work and doing it on the fly,” Stanford said. “We had one scrimmage in the fall. So we’re trying to figure all that out. We’ll also have to be flexible because a kid could get quarantined at any time.”
Labette was picked to finish fourth in the KJCCC preseason poll. Kansas City Kansas is the preseason favorite to win the conference.
“Hopefully we have enough healthy bodies at the right times to go compete every night,” Stanford said. “Our guys understand they need to handle their business appropriately. They don’t listen to any other noise.”
Labette’s first game is scheduled for Jan. 20 at Allen. The team’s home opener in on Jan. 27 against NEO A&M, although fans will be barred from attending games.