With Prairie’s latest state championship still fresh on everyone’s mind, the Idaho County Free Press caught up with Pirates bench boss Kevin Chaffee on Monday, March 4. What follows is a transcript of the conversation, lightly-edited for clarity and length.
ICFP: I’d imagine you’re still on cloud nine?
KC: Oh, yeah. I’m doing pretty well today.
ICFP: Obviously Spencer [Schumacher] has got a lot of attention for his accomplishments during that tournament. What would you say about him?
KC: I think he showed really good senior leadership. He’s one of my captains. He did an outstanding job.
ICFP: Did he do anything you guys hadn’t seen from him all year long? Was there anything extraordinary, or was that pretty workmanlike – what you expect from him?
KC: No, that’s what I expect from him. That was actually my message to the whole team when we went down there: We don’t have to do anything extraordinary. I just wanted to play team basketball, share the basketball and I didn’t want people trying to do extraordinary things. Because when they do, it takes away from the team and what we’re trying to accomplish.
ICFP: And what were the best examples of team basketball? Was there a moment or two that sticks out in your mind from any of the three games?
KC: Each one of those things was a little bit different. You know that first team we played, Challis – they were a good ball club. I didn’t know that much about them. So, close game, and we never really lost control of that game. … The next night it was a big challenge playing Lapwai and I told them, ‘You know, this is the third year I’ve been head coaching and each year I’ve beat them one time. And this is our time to beat them.’ I came in with a different game plan for that game than we’d played the two previous meetings against Lapwai. They bought into it. They’ve bought into the program all year and they’ve listened to me. Same thing against Potlatch. They beat us once this year, and I knew we could beat those guys if we just played our basketball, played team basketball, shared the ball well. I’d told them all year I didn’t care who was the leading scorer, leading rebounder, and stuff like that. As long as we look up at the end of the night and Prairie’s up one point or 10 points. I didn’t care who scores, as long as Prairie’s scoring as a team. I don’t care who gets all the points.
ICFP: How was the game plan against Lapwai different than what you’d tried before?
KC: We made some defensive adjustments, and I wanted to slow the pace of the game down. They like to go up and down, and hurry your offense up. Their type of basketball. We can play that way, and I like to play that way. But against certain teams that are more athletic than us, I felt like we needed to slow the pace of the game down, and really contain those three top scorers they have. … Defense wins state championships. I bought into that as a player when I was playing. I’ve preached that the whole time I’ve been on the coaching staff, as an assistant and as a head coach.
ICFP: Obviously that’s something Teel Bruner believed strongly in also.
ICFP: Has there been anything different, that you’ve done markedly differently from him, you think?
KC: Teel was a great mentor. I learned a lot about the game of basketball from Teel, both on and off the floor, for coaching style and stuff. And, you know, we shared the same philosophy in basketball. It was a pretty easy transition for me to take over when Teel stepped down. We had a system in place, and I just built on it. I put some different stuff in offensively and some different defensive stuff in. But the overall philosophy is, get after people. Know that when we come in the gym we’re going to get after people. … I have the utmost respect for Teel. He helped build a great program and I’ve just been able to carry on that tradition at Prairie.
ICFP: Obviously Ryan Ball is a guy who believes in some of the same things. Potlatch obviously has a strong commitment to squaring up and going hard in that man-to-man defense. And it looked like against both Lapwai and Potlatch you guys had decided to get the ball to Spencer early and often.
KC: Oh yeah, and with two 6-5 guys – it wasn’t just Spencer, I had Devin [Ross] too, who had played solid all year. And we had Dylan [Schumacher] who is long at 6-3. We just didn’t shoot the ball as much or as well outside as we did last year. We shot threes [this year], but we didn’t depend on that nearly as much. We had more of a mid-range jump-shooter game and the inside play with our length. … Just solid basketball. I can’t talk enough about how the kids responded. We got a first-round bye in the district tournament, and we lost that opening game to Potlatch. Then we had to play four games in six days. We played three more at the state tournament and we went on a 7-0 run at the end of the season, after we lost to Potlatch. It’s pretty impressive, the way the kids played together.”
ICFP: Do you think that worked in your favor, having all that activity? Because there can be a long layoff the other way, right?
KC: Obviously it worked to our favor this year. It really did. When you sit idle – because we sat idle for about a week before we played Potlatch [earlier in the playoffs] and that didn’t really do us any favors. You have to overcome a lot of adversity playing seven games in 13 days. It keeps you sharp, but it can also wear your players out. We just put it together, overcame that adversity, and just played basketball. Lapwai could say it hurt them to sit idle for a while, or Potlatch could. I don’t know. But this year it played into our favor, for sure.
ICFP: You guys went six deep, just looking at the playing time stats on what the IHSAA had provided, in that championship game. It didn’t look like any of those guys were worn out, to me. But obviously that means there are guys who played a lot of minutes for you who maybe haven’t got as much attention. Where would you start with that list?
KC: Spencer is getting a bunch of attention. Devin is a huge contributor this year. Dylan Schumacher wasn’t going to play at the start of the season, and he was a huge contributor, too. Those guys all played real well. Two kids had a great tournament and have been kind of overshadowed, I think. Sam Mager played huge down there. He did the things that aren’t really talked about. He’d get a hand on the ball. He’d get a rebound. He’d get a lay-in, or a double-pump lay-in. … He played outstanding. Damian Forsmann played an outstanding state tournament also. He hit some big shots. He really played a good game against Lapwai. Cole Schlader, sophomore, little guy. He’s listed at like 5-4 on our roster, probably weighs a buck-10. He handles the ball. He made some sophomore mistakes, yeah, but those guys all played solid. And Derik Shears, he got limited time, but I needed him against Potlatch. He was in the starting lineup at the beginning of the year. He bummed his ankle up and had to battle back. Sam got into that starting role and played solid all year.
ICFP: When you have weapons, or a collection like that, it must be kind of tough to sort out how to play all of them. But it sure seemed like you guys were all on the same page about all of that all year, from what I saw.
KC: I guarantee you nobody picked us to be the state champion this year. We were in the top in the league, and in the preseason, and rated all year in the media and coach polls. But I think if you ask people, nobody thought we would win state. Especially after we lost that first game against Potlatch in the district tournament.
ICFP: I’d imagine a lot of folks would not have picked you to get past Lapwai, but that was a game I felt I had to get to and see in person. I missed you guys on that first night, and caught you for the other two.
KC: What’d you think of that Lapwai game?
ICFP: Oh my goodness, I don’t know if I’ve seen a Lapwai team shoot as poorly as they did. I’d credit a lot of that to the effort you guys had on it, but I’m not sure they played the way they’re capable of.
KC: Normally everything they shoot goes in against us, like that first game this season, one kid hit four threes in the second quarter against us. I think a lot of it was our game plan going in, the defense we played, and the kids were just ready to play at that level.