Basketball players stroll through Hudson’s hallways feeling pretty good these days.
That certainly wasn’t the case in 2003 when Jason Vetter inherited a program that in its 26 year-history had never reached the playoffs.
“The first few years,” Vetter said, “everyone was laughing about them all the time.”
Before his job interview, Vetter sent former Hudson principal Steve Casel a 30-page packet on how he would run the team. His attention to detail won him the job.
Harping on those finer points — loose balls, free throws, selling out on defense — culminated in Hudson’s first playoff berth in 2008 followed by its first playoff win last season. Hudson was finally a bona fide basketball program.
But the start of 2009-10 has been anything but seamless.
“They walk around this building like they are something special,” Vetter said of this year’s crop of young players. “They’re reaping the benefits of something most of them didn’t earn.”
Losses to Orlando Edgewater (80-67) and Jesuit (90-53) did not help earn Vetter’s affection.
As punishment for a slow start, Vetter pulled every perk he could think of afforded to the team. He would no longer call in game scores, compile statistics or create highlight clips shown in the cafeteria. He took away team T-shirts and prohibited players from some pregame rituals. One of them involves the team holding hands and reciting “I am a Cobra,” a pledge reminding players of their dedication to the team.
There would be no more music before games, no public address announcer and no programs sold.
“I told them I will coach as hard as I can in practice and games,” Vetter said. “…They weren’t playing as hard as they can. That’s why I took everything away.”
The Cobras responded with what Vetter called their best practice of the season Monday, then a resounding 87-67 win over Pasco on Tuesday night. It was the first time in Vetter’s tenure his team had scored more than 80 points.
Senior Chris Russo, one of Hudson’s key players for three years, understood Vetter’s approach.
“I was kind of angry at him at first,” Russo said. “But I knew he was doing it for a good reason. It’s inspired us to play harder every day.”
Despite losing star Jarrod Branco to graduation, Vetter might have one of his best teams in terms of talent.
“Honestly, I wasn’t worried about losing the points and rebounds,” Vetter said. “It was the intangibles. He was a great leader, the hardest worker for four years. He never took a play off. He just wanted to win.
“I don’t have a kid like that, and most teams don’t.”
That doesn’t mean some of the kids Vetter has are not capable of becoming that type of player.
Russo teamed up with Richard Williams to help lead the Cobras in their first victory. They are averaging 21 and 16.7 points, respectively.
And Vetter has returned one perk — he gave back the T-shirts.
“After the first game he came down pretty hard,” Russo said. “He pointed out how we hadn’t been giving effort. Our intensity was bad and we weren’t communicating. That was a heads up. We had to change the way we were playing.”
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.