When Rocky Rockhold took over the Trotwood-Madison boys basketball program in 2011 he knew he had good athletes who could play exciting basketball. But he didn’t know how else to describe his team.
“There was definitely a bit of an identity crisis,” he said. “Who are we?”
So Rockhold and his staff molded an identity and a culture to take advantage of his players’ natural gifts and develop the necessary skills. “We’ve done a pretty good job of that,” he said.
Trotwood’s well-known identity is secure. The Rams (26-2) are appearing Thursday in their third straight Division II final four at 8 p.m. against Akron Buchtel (20-7) at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
“Every guy who we put on that floor has played on that floor once or twice before,” Rockhold said. “We’re hoping to rely on some of that experience.”
And their identity. The Rams are known for their fast-paced, high-scoring offense coupled with an aggressive defense that forces turnovers and speeds up slower teams. Each end of the floor can feed off the other.
“We’re going to do everything we can to play at a fast pace and pretend there’s a shot clock running,” Rockhold said.
The Rams have become one of the Miami Valley’s premier programs and clearly the dominant Division II team in the Southwest District. They are a perennial No. 1 seed that every team in their sectional tries to avoid. The Rams have won their six tournament games by an average of 44.3 points.
“We’re a team that’s relied on our culture for multiple years now,” Rockhold said. “We’ve built a culture of who we are. We talk a lot about being who we are regardless of what other teams do. Our kids have really bought into that.”
When games are tight — and that would be expected at state — the Rams rely primarily on seven players, led by senior and Division II Player of the Year Amari Davis (30.1 points per game) and junior and all-state honorable mention junior Carl Blanton (18.5). And Rockhold makes sure his players are conditioned to play fast.
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Rockhold and football coach Jeff Graham work together on conditioning for players who play both sports in a manner fitting for both. And it starts in the offseason for the others.
“Our offseason conditioning is absolutely brutal,” Rockhold said. “I know it looks like we just show up and roll the ball out, but it doesn’t happen that way. Our athletes are conditioned to do it and they’re mentally conditioned.”
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary beat the Rams at state the past two years, including in the final last year. But SVSM moved up to Division I this year. Buchtel comes from Akron too, and it brings freshman Chris Livingston. He’s 6-foot-5, averages 24.3 points and was named first-team all-state. Teammate Jonathan King was named honorable mention.
Rockhold has certainly presented a scouting report to his team, but part of the Rams’ identity is to play their style no matter what. And this week’s preparation has been no different. Rockhold runs practice at a relentless game pace.
“There are a lot of young men who play this game who wouldn’t want to play the way we do it,” Rockhold said. “Everything is timed and has movement through it. That’s how we started building the culture.”
And what makes this culture a consistent way of life?
“We work hard,” Blanton said. “We love each other. We play for each other.”