Jaden Bitner has an idea of what players in the Mother Lode League think about the Bret Harte Bullfrogs boys’ basketball team. After winning only one league game a year ago, the perception may be that the Bullfrogs might not be the toughest team on the schedule. And the Bret Harte senior is OK with teams thinking that.
“If teams want to sleep on us, they can, but I think we’ll be able to get them when they are not looking,” Bitner said. “We might not be the biggest or strongest in the league, but we are a group of hardworking guys and we don’t have any quit in us.”
The Bullfrogs are entering the third year under head coach Brian Barnett. In that time, Bret Harte has racked up only four league victories. But this is a different year for not only the Bullfrog program, but also for Barnett, who is in the middle of his first year as a teacher at Bret Harte after serving for years at Mark Twain Union Elementary School.
Being on campus and seeing players on all levels has been a welcome change for Barnett.
“I’ve been able to have interaction with the kids on campus every day,” Barnett said. “I have players in my classroom that I can keep an eye on. I can also now check grades without having to ask for printed grades. So, it’s more satisfying being able to see them daily.”
When looking at the Bret Harte basketball program as a whole, Barnett is pleased. Numbers are up on the freshman level, and there are more than 30 kids in the program. After three years of running the program his way, only the seniors know anything different.
“We are trying to develop a program here that our freshmen understand what it takes to play at the JV level, and the JV understand what it takes to play at the varsity level,” Barnett said. “This is actually a cool year because the junior class only knows my program and what we’ve been doing since we started three years ago. This is all they know. I’m also very hands-on with the freshman and JV program. I feel that every year we are getting further ahead because kids know certain things coming in already.”
On the 2019-20 varsity roster, Bitner is the only player with a lot of playing time. Bitner, a senior, has no problem taking on more of a leadership role for his young team.
“I’m a four-year player and I have some more experience than the younger kids right now, so I’m hoping that I can fulfill the leadership role,” Bitner said.
The only other senior players are Colby Dickman and Tanner Gerhart, who both spent time on the injured list as juniors.
“We are young,” Barnett said. “Tanner Gerhart was injured for most of last year and he was able to get some good minutes toward the end of the season. Aside from that, we have Colby Dickman, who had an injured collarbone last year and didn’t get to play much. We basically have mostly juniors and one sophomore up right now.”
The one sophomore on the roster is 5-foot, 10-inch guard Erik Trent. When asked about Trent, Barnett said, “He’s athletic and he brings competition to the team. Seeing his physical capability and the passes he makes during practice made us feel good about making the decision to bring him up.”
For many coaches, they have a basic idea as to what the identity of their teams should be, whether it’s a run-and-gun, defensive or post. As for Barnett, he still hasn’t quite figured out what the strengths and makeup of his squad are.
“It’ll be a game-by-game thing,” Barnett said. “We’ll be surprised with what we do. It won’t always be the same thing and I like it that way. I like the game management. Whether they can remember what a game plan is or not remains to be seen, but I like that and I hope they can pick up on that.”
Bret Harte began the season with a 73-55 road loss to the Hughson Huskies on Nov. 22. The Bullfrogs trailed 35-33 at halftime, but got outscored 38-22 in the second half.