“We are always faced with challenges, it’s the same as any season,” Partee said. “You just never know what those challenges are going to be.” After receiving a degree in mathematics, Partee envisioned being an architect—someone who builds things and solves puzzles. But his passion for basketball never subsided, so he combined his inner architect with his love for the game. “I wanted to build, I wanted to be a designer, so here I am, building a program, solving problems on the court and I love it,” Partee said.
This year, the challenge for the team has been injuries and therefore a lack of depth on the bench. With no returning seniors on the team, the juniors have had to take charge, and unfortunately, several of them developed injuries just weeks into the season. Partee noted that while there is a lot of talent on the team, certain questions arise when his starters aren’t healthy enough to play: Do you go into the bench? How deep can you go into the bench? Are those players going to be impactful? And are you the same team when you have to rely on those players? “The injuries have placed more emphasis on player development every day,” Partee said. “You just never know when a lightbulb goes on for [an underclassman].”
But recently, a lightbulb did go off for one of the younger players, according to Partee. While resting his starters in a game against Johnson and Wales, prior to their two most recent conference games, sophomore Gabe Chavez stepped up and showed major potential. “To see him emerge in that opportunity was exactly what I wanted to see,” Partee said. “He gained confidence and I gained confidence in being able to call his name and say ‘hey buddy, now you’re there and I want to rely on you because you just demonstrated what you’re capable of.’”
This year’s injuries caused several things to change: it opened up a door of opportunity for the underclassman and it also forced Partee to makes some changes in his style of coaching in order to test the team’s strength before their regular season.
First, Partee designed an incredibly intense pre-season schedule, with nearly a dozen games before the team’s regular season started. “We didn’t duck anyone, we played two division II programs, and we said all along even through the losses and injuries, ‘hey these teams aren’t in our conference, so we have been battle tested’,” Partee said. “It made us grow and play at a higher level than our actual conference level.”
The second change Partee made this season was slowing down the pace of play. “Typically we try to take advantage of being in altitude and forcing the pace of the game,” Partee said. “But doing that with a very shallow bench is almost self-defeating in the sense that I’m pretty much running them into the ground.” After the team’s trip to California in late December, Partee realized that they were winning during their first halves and then going downhill in their second halves. “I looked at it and said ‘maybe its our energy level.’ So now we are walking the ball up the court, maximizing every possession, and also using more timeouts as pitstops as opposed to strategic timeouts,” Partee said. “We want our guys to be able to sustain their level of intensity.”
These two changes have worked wonders for the Tigers this season. They won their first five conference games in the new year and only this past Sunday did they break that streak, losing by two points to the other top team in their league, Schreiner University. Prior to playing Screiner, the team dominated Trinity University last Friday night. “To split these [last] two games was not totally unexpected simply because of the injuries we were experiencing,” Partee said. “But we are certainly still on an upward trend.” From now on, the Tigers play every team they have already played, but in reverse order. They will face off afainst Schreiner again this weekend, then Trinity, and then Cenetary, etc. The wheels are in motion for this season, and the battle has just begun. According to Partee, the team is dying to keep putting in work and they remain hungry.