By Phil Dailey
After the first 12 games, the Knights have only won five contests and have already surpassed the loss total from last year, a squad that went 20-6 and secured the No. 1 seed in the Division IV CIF playoffs.
But there should be an asterisk by the team's record — first-year head coach Matt Niehues hasn't had his full squad on the court at one time this season.
Niehues is in his seventh season with the Knights, but took over the head job from Tom Tarantino, who is now the basketball coach and athletic director at the Army and Navy Academy.
Several reasons attribute to the sluggish start: Two starters, Micha Seau and Dominique Love, were playing with the Knights' state championship football team well into the month of December and another starter, Ryan Chong, has been out with an illness.
"It's about everything that's against you as a team is against you," Niehues said.
During last week's Torrey Pines Holiday Classic, it was evident the team was more or less winging it given the lack of practice time the team has had. Last Thursday, the team lost by two points to Carlsbad, a game where the Knights shot a paltry 2-for-16 from beyond the 3-point line and missed several short-range shots as well.
"When you have practice time, you don’t miss that many layups," Niehues said. "I can call one play out here, that’s how much practice time we’ve had — one play.
"We haven't had a full team practice with everybody, we haven't been able to go five-on-five full court this year. But yet we are still in all these games. We lost by two (against Carlsbad) and we lost by two (against Paraclete). We just shoot ourselves in the foot.”
With the holiday tournaments in the rearview mirror, the Knights now have time to start working on their game, instead of just showing up and trying to improvise their way to a victory. During the holiday break, the team played eight games and practiced as an entire team just once.
"Whenever we have practices, we come out and compete like no other," Niehues said. "But when we do this stuff like we did here (against Carlsbad), the focus is so hard."
Before the conference season starts on Jan. 14 against Francis Parker, the team will get two more tests as they play Otay Ranch (9-4) and La Costa Canyon (12-2).
The Knights should start to look more like a team that won 20-plus games the past four seasons. Niehues expects to add several plays to the team’s playbook this week. In the past, he said the team has had as many as 20 to 25 sets to choose from during a game.
"It's gonna get better," senior captain Stephen Kaiser said. "We have been missing players and now we are getting players back and now it should only be uphill from here."
Despite the sluggish start, the team’s goals remain the same and the first 12 games of the season are now just a memory.
“Just win league and CIF,” Kaiser said. “That's our goal.”