Culture change propels Saints to new heights on the court

Kaizen. For the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes boys basketball team, the word is more than a marriage of three consonants, three vowels and two syllables. The Japanese word for continuous improvement instills the Saints with depth, guidance and motivation.

Kaizen.

They strive to achieve it — not just in games but in practice, too. And it’s a small bit of the larger puzzle pieced together by head coach Ronald Ginyard.

He has changed the culture of the basketball team in his inaugural year and led them to a 10-2 record — tripling their win total from the entire 2011-12 season with plenty of basketball left to play.

Kaizen.

The term often shares space with six others — pride, family, leadership, discipline, hard work and mental toughness — on the white board in the team’s locker room. They make up the core of the culture of the revamped Saints.

And it’s this new culture that’s become a key component of Ginyard’s coaching strategy.

“We have worked really hard to create a new culture,” Ginyard said. “Our guys have done a really great job of buying into [it] and listening to [it].”

Less than a year ago, the Saints finished 3-25. They ended the season without winning a single league game. But this year, the team hopes to win more than one Interstate Athletic Conference game — and they want to win the conference championship too.

Put a checkmark next to the first item on the to-do list. The Saints brought home their first league win Saturday, outscoring Landon School 68-42, but lost to Georgetown Prep 79-70 Tuesday.*

Kaizen.

But with less than half of the season over, the team still has work to do. They face their most difficult opponent, Bullis, on January 18 and hope to make a splash at the annual Sleepy Thompson tournament, where they’ll be up against John Paul the Great, St. Albans and backyard rival Episcopal.

“Every team is really competitive,” Ginyard said. “We need to be prepared to play in battle.”

The coach hopes to see improvement in their execution, but is confident that once it’s mastered, they’ll be in position to bring home the trophy.

The Saints came into this season with low expectations. Besides their losing record, they lost six seniors and returned only two starters. But the addition of two transfers — Gavin Peppers from regional powerhouse Montrose Christian and Cameron Gregory from Bishop O’Connell — has helped the Saints storm to victory.

 “They’ve been leaders on the team” said junior forward Jordan Hunter. “We all get along on and off the court.”

And that success is contagious. Piggybacking off the varsity football squad’s achievements in the fall, excitement ripples through the halls of the school as the basketball team racks up win after win, Hunter said.

The Saints have capitalized on their ability to get the ball in the paint, said junior shooting guard Dominic Steward. But he also recognizes a change in atmosphere — one that’s led to more wins — since Ginyard stepped onto the court.

“We’re improving together as a team each and every day,” Steward said.

And their improvement can only be attributed to one thing, made up of seven small parts — Ginyard’s winning culture.

“The measure of things really is the culture, and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Ginyard said. “We want to build a reputation of a team that’s competitive and a team you have to prepare for that you can’t just beat without playing your best.”

Kaizen.

*Due to a typing error, this score was initially reported as 79-0.

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