One needn’t speak with Bob Krizancic to understand his coaching philosophy. The man who has guided the Mentor boys basketball team to 12 consecutive winning seasons and six D-I district championships has gained a reputation for motivating his players to compete with ferocity. Tonight the tenacity is unleashed again.
One needn’t speak with Bob Krizancic to understand his coaching philosophy.
The man who has guided the Mentor boys basketball team to 12 consecutive winning seasons and six Division I district championships has gained a reputation for motivating his players to compete with ferocity.
The Cardinals jump on opponents from the opening tick of the clock with a chaotic full-court press and don’t let up for a split-second. They drive to the basket aggressively and either finish or kick it out for an open three-pointer. Even a 30-second time clock would mean nothing to Krizancic’s crew, for which 90-point games are not uncommon.
And as Mentor prepares to begin yet another run at a Lake Erie League title, Krizancic harkened back to his sophomore year at Youngstown State to trace the seeds of his overall strategies.
“We were playing the University of San Francisco and they had these two guards,” he recalls. “We played 20-minute halves and, for me, it was 38 minutes of pure hell because their two guards were in my face for 90 feet. It was miserable. Since then, I decided I prefer to make others miserable in a 90-feet game.”
Mission accomplished. Krizancic landed his first head coaching position at Girard at age 25 and won a Division II state title playing that style. Now in his 16th year at Mentor, he hasn’t had a losing season since 1995. Though the Cardinals lost high-scoring Joey Meyer to graduation, they return everyone else who helped the team qualify for regionals in 2008.
Though Mentor is the most populous school in the state, the boys team is rarely physically gifted and is most always vertically challenged. In fact, the Cardinals boasted no one over 6-foot-3 last year. But what it lacks in height, it makes up for in spirit, quickness and long-range accuracy.
If they’re not stealing the ball in the backcourt or just over the midcourt line, they’re nailing three-pointers or attacking the basket and either laying the ball in or getting fouled. And they usually hit 75-80 percent from the line.
“If you believe in what you’re doing, why switch it every year?” Krizancic asks. “We have a lot of kids between 5-10 and 6-2, but the full-court play offsets height. And I tell people that if you play at Mentor, you have to be able to shoot threes. I’d say 30 to 40 percent of our shots are beyond the arc. Ninety percent are either three-pointers or are in the paint.”
Among the mad bombers that helped the Cardinals finish 20-5 in 2008 was Meyer, who averaged about 23 points a game, shot 90 percent from the line, and has since taken his talents to John Carroll University. But he missed much of the postseason, including the regional semifinal loss to Warren Harding, due to a kidney viral infection.
The Cardinals do return 6-3 forward Scott Branchick, the second-leading scorer on the team a year ago at 15 points a game. Also back is Ben Pike, who doubles as a defensive end on the highly successful Mentor football team. So are junior guard Jaron Crowe and sophomore sharpshooter and coach’s son Cole Krizancic.
The elder Krizancic is most leery of Cleveland Heights among LEL opponents and fears always-competitive Glenville among district rivals. He adds that Brush should also provide strong postseason competition.
The Cardinals have yet to reach the state tournament under Krizancic. One might believe the reason is that they eventually run into an overwhelmingly talented foe, such as when they played current Ohio State center Dallas Lauderdale and the Solon Comets at regionals.
Krizancic, however, believes both his past and current players can hold their heads up high for their performances, even in defeat.
“Every one of those six regional losses was a very close game,” he says with conviction. “We lost to Stow by one and to Solon by six. And we beat very talented Glenville teams four times in district play, which is a pretty darn good accomplishment. Our goal is always to get to state.”
Even if that doesn’t happen, one thing is certain: The Cardinals will be driving opponents crazy with their style and spirit, just like those University of San Francisco guards did to Krizancic more than a generation ago.