By Justin Einerson
Lincoln Boys Varsity Basketball Coach
Coaches are always trying to convince players that hard work pays off, especially in the off-season. If you go around the country you see quotes on walls, doorways and entry ways that suggest that there is no substitute to hard work and dedication. The reality is that achieving your own personal potential, is an extremely rare feat. Distractions are everywhere, waiting for the right moment to take you off track. Most of us fall away from our dreams or goals because of those distractions. And instead of taking ownership for our setbacks, we blame others.
That’s where this 2019 class is extremely special to me. They took year-round ownership in their personal and player development. Just two years ago, this group’s sophomore year, the varsity and sophomore teams at Lincoln finished with one win each.
Marcos Sandoval came in this summer as a senior committed to being a vocal leader and great teammate. He accomplished even more than he set out to because he became another coach on the bench and in practices. His team-first approach gives us a huge boost on the daily basis. He has a bright future in coaching if he chooses that path.
I met Josiah Conkrite the day after that season ended in 2017. He had come to watch the Freshmen/Sophomore game and I learned that he had moved to the Southside and was enrolled to Lincoln about a month earlier. I told him that we would have an intense open gym/weight room schedule in spring and summer and he immediately joined the fray. As a junior, he was our starting point guard and was named second-team all CIML Metro. He also led the CIML in getting his head coach in trouble for shooting in the Roundhouse without the lights on before anyone else got there. Yes, he’s averaging almost 20 points a game as a senior and getting recruited by some great programs around Iowa. He still is the first one in the gym and last to leave. But the coolest thing is that he got a 4.0 in the fall semester of his senior year. All that tells me is that Josiah is unstoppable. Give him a challenge, he’s going to grind and find a way to overcome it.
Karon Allen contacted me in the summer of 2017 telling me that he was moving to the district from Burlington and he was looking to play football and basketball at Lincoln. In both sports, he played sparingly as a junior but stayed committed to working hard and earning his minutes. Karon was unskilled as a junior but one of our champions of hustle and an awesome teammate. The task in front of him to go from a practice player to a spot starter and heavy rotation guy was immense because he struggled to shoot it and had limited finishing ability. This year, Karon has hit a handful of clutch threes for us and has become a matchup problems for opponents due to his ability to attack, finish, shoot, rebound and guard every position on the floor. He earned every skill he attained. Just a pure grinder by nature. I’m also pretty sure he’s every teacher’s favorite student. This is the kind of kid that could change his community forever because of the presence he gives. We’re sure lucky he landed on the Southside.
I used to refer to Logan Sharp as our gentle giant but despite his mild manner, he plays with a ferocity as a senior and I couldn’t be more proud of him for that. Since I met him during his sophomore year, Logan has been a diligent and dedicated worker on and off the floor. He battled a few frustratingly-timed injuries during key development times in his career but always came back in great shape with a great mindset. Logan never let an injury or an illness derail him and now he’s being heavily recruited by some great coaches and great college basketball programs in the Midwest. Logan is always attacking his weaknesses, which tells me that the best of him is still to be found.
Ben Knoebel was one of the first players I met when I took the job in summer of 2016. From the start, it was obvious that he wanted to be a great player here and have a shot at college basketball. An inconsistent and inefficient shooter as a sophomore, he put up hundreds of shots per day, year-round, to smooth out his release. He also studied the game to find ways to maximize his efficiency. His growth as a player went exactly to plan for our program but he continues to improve small facets of the game. He’s become one of our best rebounding and defensive wings, something I never would’ve expected from him as a sophomore. He’s a fantastic student who’s going to have a chance to light up college defenders next year and beyond. Ben is averaging 11.2 points per game this season on almost 40 percent from three.
Felix Gallagher represents everything that Lincoln Railsplitters Basketball is all about. He’s the kind of guy you love having on your team and hate playing against. He’s guaranteed to be more energetic and more invested than anyone else on the floor that night. I have a great picture of him sweeping the floor before a summer practice this year. That’s perfect, that’s exactly the type of person he is. Need someone to rebound, defend an opponent’s best player, sweep the floor? He’s your guy. He didn’t fully commit to basketball until the summer before his junior year and his growth in that span of time is honestly astounding. As a senior, he’s only starting to scratch the surface of what he can become as a basketball player. He started at the five for us due to his intensity as a junior but has developed into a skilled inside finisher with an improving perimeter game and jump shot. Those improved skills allowed us to play him in multiple spots this year. Of course, he still guards the opponent’s best player. We flat-out built this program around Felix. Day-to-day, hour-to-hour, he’s going to outwork everyone, everywhere. He, along with this entire senior class, will be talked about for a long time in the Roundhouse. He is about to step into a college playing career and turn every practice into an intense battle. I love that he will wear that Lincoln chip on his shoulder at the next level.
I want to personally thank Marcos, Josiah, Karon, Logan, Ben and Felix and all of those around them that have made them who they are. Parents, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, teammates: you have carved out some amazing young men through your influence on them. Lincoln High School, the boys basketball program, and the Southside are forever grateful for everything these men have done for the program.
My wife told me this fall, “Don’t take this group for granted.” I think about that every single day. Even when our work together is done, I’ll be the biggest fan of these six guys in their next endeavors.