By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
Nick Lawrence's head coaching career didn't get off to the best start. In fact, it got off to a terrible start.
Clinton went winless in Lawrence's first season in charge and followed that up with a one-win campaign. This season things were different. The River Kings won seven games, didn't have a losing streak of longer than five games and snapped a 36-game conference losing streak.
"I'm definitely pleased with the progress," said Lawrence, who was selected as the Clinton Herald's All-Area Coach of the Year for orchestrating the turnaround. "But we can't be satisfied with where we are at until we get to the top. Then we still have to push forward. We have a long way to go, and consistency will be key. That being said, not just for me personally, but for the whole program, this was a sigh of relief."
One problem Lawrence faced was needing to rely on younger players, but that is starting to pay off and could do so even more in the future.
"It's been tough," Lawrence said. "We've got guys learning on the fly. It's not necessarily the X’s and O’s of basketball, but the effort level and intensity it takes to compete at the varsity level in the MAC."
Junior Jalen Jones joined the varsity at the end of his freshman season. Sopho-more Brady Ernst and freshman Derrick Howard saw a lot of time on the top squad from the time they started playing basketball in high school.
"These guys are coming in and going from eighth-grade basketball to the varsity level in a good conference," Lawrence said. "Without a doubt that's a tough thing. All of the guys have handled it well."
That is why things look good for the River Kings to continue to improve. Jones, Ernst and Howard, along with junior Jon Cady were the top four scorers for Clinton this year. The River Kings also return their top two, and four of the top five, rebounders, four of the top five in assists and the top three in steals.
"The biggest thing going forward is the offseason commitment," Lawrence said. "We've talked about what we need to do. Now we need to apply it. We need to hit the weights and have a committed, focused attitude in the offseason. It's not just putting the time in, but getting stuff out of it."
Lawrence said one of the biggest reasons for the team improvement was more confidence.
""It was just a matter of the guys being able to win a couple games; it didn't matter who they were against," Lawrence said. "We won a couple summer league games and that was a big confidence boost. ... We experienced some success last summer. We won our first four games.
"Now the guys believe in themselves and trust their teammates."
Lawrence hopes the Kings can take another step forward next year.