Three tips: what Devils Lake BBB must do to succeed this season

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – The Devils Lake Firebirds Boys Basketball team had a season for sore eyes last year. A 2-16 record during the 2020-21 season certainly illustrated this, as did a 13-game losing streak to start the campaign. So would two 100-point+ performances by the opposition (103-41 vs. West Fargo Sheyenne and 112-51 against the same team on Dec. 22, 2020, and Feb. 5, 2021, respectively). So would their 0-10 record away from their home confines. 

All in all, the Firebirds finished their year without double-digit victories to their name for the first  since the 2017-18 season (4-18). 

You get the idea at this point. 

However, a new year brings greener (or redder) pastures for the Firebirds. At least, that is what first-year head coach Dustin Brodina is looking to ingrain into his team. Since his official hiring date over the summer, Brodina has been planning and prepping for a rebound campaign (no pun intended). 

Devils Lake head coach Dustin Brodina (center) talks with his team before practice.

As Brodina looks to take the head coaching helm by storm, here are three tips the Firebirds must take to heart as they look to turn their fortunes around during the 2021-22 season. 

1. Establish the culture

A brief glimpse at a basketball practice might have thrown some viewers for a loop. Instead of dunking contests, it might as well have been a track meet, given how much Brodina had his team running around the court and hallways. 

To Brodina, it is all about creating a new precedent and establishing a new culture. From running drills to teaching life lessons, Brodina believes in preparing his team for life after basketball. 

“We are going to have great attitudes, and we are going to lead by example, whether we are off the court or on the court,” Devils Lake head coach Dustin Brodina said. “We are going to teach that stuff as well, and not just X’s and O’s. Some of that leadership and respect they can use off of the court when they leave this court here and take those leadership skills on whatever part of life they go from here. That is kind of what I want Devils Lake basketball to look like. Granted, there will be X’s and O’s and things that will look like, but hopefully, the style of play we pick, things that we do will lead to winning, which will be a culture that will breed success. Success breeds success, and we want that to hopefully take charge.” 

The intangibles might be tough to see at first, but as their season progresses, the Firebirds will look to build their new culture based on this mindset. It cannot hurt. 

2. Time for the seniors to shine

Four senior Letter Winners return to the Firebird ranks in Ben Heilman, Hayden Hofstad, Keauno Newton and Caleb Schneider. Heilman and Hofstad led the way as both averaged 11+ points per game (PPG) last season (11.8 PPG and 11.1 PPG, respectively). 

It will be up to these seniors to shoulder the bulk of the production and act as mentors toward the younger players.

“I just think bringing the energy every practice, every game and get after it,” senior Ben Heilman said. “Try to get 100% better every day. I think that is the mentality.” 

“Be the vocal leaders of the team,” senior Hayden Hofstad said. “Push everyone to do their best.” 

Value goes beyond what happens on the court. It also pertains to what happens off of it. As Brodina looks to establish a new culture, his seniors will be pivotal to making that transition a smooth one. 

3. Shoot, but set up for the shot, too

There is no denying the fact that the Firebirds have talent on the offensive end. Heilman and Hayden illustrated this, as did Newton (who averaged 8.3 rebounds per game last season and compiled 58 assists) and Drew Hofstad (who averaged 8.5 PPG last season). 

It is not so much about finding Firebird talent. Instead, it is about refining it. 

Refining this talent, in Brodina’s mind, involves establishing pressure and maintaining fluidity in ball movement. 

“In a perfect world, we are going to pressure the ball,” Brodina said. “We are going to pressure the ball full-court, 40 minutes a game. Offensively, we are going to play kind of a more freestyle attack offense. Open the floor up, let these boys open, freestyle, attack the basket, draw the defense in, drive and kick and hopefully knock down some shots.” 

Hayden, who established a downtown presence last season (he clocked 40 three-pointers during the 2020-21 season), will look to emphasize this freestyle and give him more emphasis in setting up offensive plays. 

“I am hoping to attack more and help with the presses because I did not do that very well last year,” Hofstad said. “Try not to shoot as much and drive a little bit more.” 

Driving and establishing are not mutually exclusive terms, and the Firebirds will look to make this a possibility this season. Should they wish to dish the firepower back in potential slugfests, they will need to.