Russell Zehr picked an interesting time to get back into high school coaching.
After 14 years as a basketball coach, Zehr took some time out of the game three years ago, choosing to spend more time with his family.
But the competitive juices never stopped flowing through his veins, so Zehr decided last summer to accept the challenge of building the program at Berkeley County's newest high school — Cane Bay.
And what a challenge it has been.
Cane Bay's enrollment includes only sophomores and freshmen this year, so the Cobras boys are playing a full varsity schedule with what amounts to a junior varsity team. As Zehr sees it, his team is even younger in basketball terms than most junior varsity teams.
"The first day of tryouts was an eye-opening experience," laughs Zehr, who previously coached at Ninety Six High. "I guess this is not a big basketball area. I was amazed at what our kids did not know in terms of the game. Things that you just assume kids know, they didn't know. Things like a 10-second violation, or what a zone defense is. We had a few with some knowledge, but we had one player who played JV ball last year."
As expected, the initial season has been a tough one. Many of Cane Bay's 10 losses have been by more than 30 points.
The Cobras are plagued by turnovers and poor shooting, and have been at a tremendous size and speed disadvantage early on. They lost their season opener to Military Magnet by 64 points.
Zehr, however, has been pleased with one aspect of his team this season.
"This is easily the hardest-working group of kids that I've ever been associated with," said the coach. "They bring it every day, every practice and every game. If you watched us play and never looked at the scoreboard, you would never know we were losing by 40 points.
"We are getting better. We are cutting down the turnovers, almost in half really. We are starting to score a little better. I think we have the potential to be competitive down the road, but the biggest thing we need is just maturity and experience. If we continue to have the effort that we're getting, we're going to see improvement."
Cane Bay's roster has eight sophomores and four freshmen. The team's leading scorer is freshman point guard Sheldon Harris. Freshman Tremaine Hart, the team's tallest player at 6-1, is the top rebounder and shot blocker. Sophomore guard Damon Chivers leads the team in steals.
Zehr started with the basics when practice began in November and said things are still pretty basic halfway through the season.
The coach is not focusing on wins and losses. He is counting small victories along the way and says regardless of the record, this first season will be a successful one.
"None of us likes losing, but we have to remember where we are right now in terms of the program," Zehr said. "We are measuring success by improvement.
"On paper, we should not win a game this year. But we're not going to quit trying. It's not in this team to just give up."