BY JEFF FALK
Do you know how one can tell Ben Brewer is a Cedar?
His trunk is firmly rooted in Lebanon. His branches still have all of their needles. And his bark is worse than his bite.
Yes, Brewer is a Cedar, through and through. The Lebanon administration saw the exact same things in July went it selected Brewer to be the new head of the Cedars girls’ basketball program.
Brewer graduated from Lebanon High in 1998. He played basketball under John Barnhart and on some very good Cedar teams. He served as an assistant coach in the boys’ program for three years. He spent the last four seasons as Carlos Sanchez’s lead assistant coach for the girls’ program. And he teaches in the school district.
“Carlos had mentioned it over the last year or two, his desire to take time away from coaching and spend more time with his family,” said Brewer of Sanchez. “With eight seniors leaving, it was a class we were really close to and he felt like it was as good as time as any to step aside. They posted the job, and I applied. I thought I had a decent shot at getting it. It was an opportunity to take over a great program led by a great coach the last few years.
“I assisted Carlos for four years, but I had coached boys for three years prior to that,” Brewer continued. “There was an obvious adjustment. It took some time to get used to the speed of the game. But one thing I found was that I got more responsiblity to do more things. I think there’s more opportunity to organize the girls’ game and strategize. It’s more team-oriented. Teams that are successful buy into that. In the boys’ game, one or two players can take over. The girls’ game is more fundamental. And the family thing, I enjoy that.”
As Brewer’s time with Sanchez wore on, he was put in charge of more and more things. There were times over the last few seasons when Brewer was in the middle of the Cedar huddle leading timeouts with a clipboard, as Sanchez listened with the players.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘groom’,” said Brewer. “He knew when he stepped down that I’d like an opportunity. So the last few years he made me the defensive coordinator. If there was anything defensively going on, he told the girls, ‘I want you to listen to him’. Yeah, he was the head coach. But between he, myself and Coach (Jerry) Lampkin, it was a team. There was a team on the court, but there was also a team on the bench.”
So as one may have guessed, the transition to Brewer has been a smooth one. The new coach is familiar with his personnel, but given the graduation of eight seniors, that personnel is very green.
“Things are going very well,” said Brewer. “We came in with the philosophy that we want to make a fundamentally sound team. We’re young. We’ve got to teach fundamentals. We’re preaching defense and discipline. We’re not going to outscore people. We’ve had our ups and downs. But I think as they (his players) see it, they’re going to buy into it. I’m looking forward to the season for sure.”
With those eight seniors – four of whom were four-year starters – the Cedars went 19-9 in 2010-11 and qualified for the District Three Class AAAA, PIAA and Lancaster-Lebanon League tournaments.
“We’re going to win ugly,” said Brewer. “It’s about trying to get the win. But I think we have a chance to surprise some pepole. Everyone who follows it knows we lost the eight seniors. But being at Lebanon High and the tradition there, the goals should always be to compete in the section and to get to districts and states.
“I see it as a program where we continuously have classes coming up,” Brewer added. “I think the program is strong. I don’t look at it as a rebuilding year. I see it as a continuation. People just haven’t seen these kids play yet. One thing that is a negative is numbers. I didn’t have to cut a single player. But the kids who are playing are participating.”
Brewer will have one constant on which to rely this season – senior guard Sadie Eisenhour. Eisenhour possesses the ability to score and will be asked to do so for the Cedars.
“I think we can play against some people in Section One (of the Lancaster-Lebanon League), and everybody in Section Two,” said Brewer. “We’re going to play a style of basketball where games are going to be close. As soon as they (his players) see some success, I can see them gaining confidence. If we can be a couple of games over .500, we can make it to districts.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I had the same expectations at the beginning of practice,” Brewer continued. “Now we’ve tried to be so positive and encouraging to get the girls to buy into it. It’s kind of like, ‘If we do what the coaches tell us to do, we can be just as good.’ I think their attitude is changing and they’re gaining that confidence.”
Senior Josette Reich, an athletic slashing forward, will share leadership duties with Eisenhour, while sophomore Shaela Shellenhamer will provide Lebanon with outside shooting and a defensive presence. The Cedars’ point guard duties will be shared by sophomore Lauren Chambers and freshman Brittany Ulrich.
“They’re fast,” said Brewer of his troops. “I have some girls with some great basketball knowledge. They can see the game. They don’t quit. They don’t give up. It’s like the kids from Lebanon, they go through a lot.
“They have so many different and awesome personalities,” continued Brewer. “I don’t have any egos. They don’t have to get their points. And they’ve been together as a team since they were five, six, seven years old.”