For first-year Pinecrest girls basketball coach Jonathan Oshinski, the process of getting better is just as exciting as the game of basketball itself.
That was exemplified in a preseason game against South Forsyth. The Paladins knew victory was highly unlikely, but in the pregame locker room meeting, they set three goals for themselves: Get 10 putbacks off rebounds, get a charge called on them and get some outlet passes.
Their smaller team size prevented the rebounds, but they did check off two out of the three items on their list. That was more than enough for Pinecrest’s new head coach to get pumped.
“If we do one of those things he gets really happy about it and he's like, ‘Now let's get better. Let's do six. Let's get seven foul charges.’” senior Ella Binkley said. “He just keeps pushing us to do better with increments.”
Oshinski’s incremental goal-setting and his motivational nature have been welcome presences for the Paladins so far. The girls program has been successful over the last few years, but after losing two key seniors, the experience level has diminished. Pinecrest hopes his philosophy can keep the team in contention not just for this year, but for the foreseeable future.
Ken Lacy, the former girls coach, informed athletic director Chris Kane about his retirement after last season ended. Kane felt down after losing a good coach in Lacy – and a successful one, too, as he had led the Paladins to winning records in each of his four seasons – but Oshinski, who was the middle school boys coach at the time, immediately popped into his head as a suitable replacement.
Oshinski had plenty of experience as a manager at Georgia under Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Andy Landers and current women’s coach Joni Taylor, and best of all, he was a Pinecrest graduate who understood the school’s culture.
“Once Ken mentioned it, I went right to Jonathan, put a little bug in his ear and said, ‘Think about it,’” Kane said. “Jonathan is the quintessential Pinecrest graduate. Who better to lead the program for the girls than a Pinecrest grad? That's what we were thinking.”
When it came time for Oshinski to practice with his new team, he was wary of changing too much of what had worked well before. What had worked for Lacy was a grueling conditioning and practice schedule, something that senior Nika Brown remembers all too well.
“I remember this one (drill) where we'd have to make our free throws until we made them and we had our other teammates holding a plank underneath,” Brown said. “You really wanted to finish it for them so we could finish.”
While Oshinski still sees conditioning as a necessary tool for success, he’s done it in a different way than his predecessor did, and it’s definitely been a lighter workload. The new coach wanted his players to be able to use their skillset in other areas, as well as be fresher on the basketball court.
“We've got a lot of multi-sport athletes,” Oshinski said. “Almost every girl on this team plays another sport, so (we're) trying to be mindful of that and trusting their conditioning that they're getting from their other sports, but then at the same time, doing a lot more of our workouts and exercises for injury prevention.”
With a team full of newcomers, that might be a big plus. In the past, the previous practice regimen was deterring to some, including Brown at one point. With the encouragement of her teammates, she made it through during her underclassman years, but she knows not everyone was as on board with it as she was.
“Comparatively, it's a little bit less scary to outsiders,” she said. “That's why we have more players on the team this year. Our whole conditioning and practice schedule was so intense that people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm scared to do this.’”
With leading scorers Regina Metz and Maddie Lynch leaving after last year, the reality of being a small team with less experience has struck them recently, with three freshmen that are new to the program and Brown being the only returning senior from last year. Binkley returned for her senior season after sitting out last year due to back issues.
“(Oshinski) has been put in a different situation with the numbers in the program, so he's really trying to develop a love for basketball and a love for the program with the girls,” Kane said. “Reestablish that love, because we've lost so many seniors over the last few years.”
Oshinski has also brought a new offense to the table. It’s faster, but very different than what it looked like under Lacy. It’s been quite an adjustment for the veterans on the team like Brown, but she feels like it could a simpler offense for the younger players to thrive in.
Pinecrest hopes that under their new coach’s leadership, they’ll be able to check off even more, perhaps bigger boxes down the road.
“There's a want for success,” Oshinski said. “There's a willingness to come in and learn. That's been really easy for me to come into. They're very coachable and I can push them. By having that drive and determination, I think that's really going to help us over the course of the year.”