HUDSON — With no intention whatsoever, Hudson High leading scorer Mark Calleja’s practice jersey screams for a one-liner.
The ‘D’ in Hudson has faded to the point of being invisible.
“Go ahead; you won’t offend me,” said boys basketball coach Jason Vetter, in his 15th season with the Cobras.
Yes, at times this year there has been no ‘D’ in Hudson. But it has been worth the trade-off: the Cobras lead the state in scoring. They were averaging 87.4 entering the week, a jump of 20 per game over last year’s 16-11 team.
“We may allow the most points, too, but that’s a by-product if you will,” said Vetter, referring to the system.
The Cobras press, full court, the whole game. The result is a dizzying pace, the idea being to get the opponent to gradually run out of steam, coughing up turnovers at a progressive rate.
It doesn’t guarantee victory. After Anclote beat the press regularly in last Friday’s 90-71 victory, the Cobras’ fell to 11-8 and 9-4 in Class 6A, District 8. They have lost by an average of 22 points to leader Ridgewood, one a 102-72 score. At a recent tournament in Orlando, Lake Nona hung 115 on the Cobras.
But darn if the games aren’t entertaining. Take the two against Zephyrhills, which if current seedings hold, would play Hudson in a must-see district tournament semifinal. The Bulldogs won the first meeting 90-89, with Hudson taking the second 106-100 in overtime.
“That really is what it’s all about. I know every coach says they want to win a state championship, but at the end of the day, you want to be entertaining,” Vetter said.
Don’t mistake that for not having postseason aspirations. Vetter has taken four Hudson squads to the playoffs. Hudson finished the 2009 and 2011 seasons with 20 victories and had a 19-win 2012 playoff team. All three of those clubs averaged scoring in the 50s.
“We had some really great defensive teams. But we couldn’t score,” Vetter said. “This system is designed to open up the opponent defensively, to create spaces in the defense that we can attack in transition.”
The change in approach had taken off this season, unlike two seasons ago when Vetter didn’t get the necessary buy-in.
“It was rough,” recalled Calleja, then a sophomore. “People just didn’t want to do it. We lost two or three games by 30-something points, and that was it.”
Why on earth would a basketball player not like a system designed for triple-digit scoring outputs? Because in order to maintain the press for a full 32 minutes, Vetter must substitute often, and wholesale. Generally, all five players on the court come off for a new group.
“Basketball players just don’t want to come out of the game after a couple minutes. But in the end, you end up taking more shots in this system,” Vetter said.
The five-in, five-out rotation has seen plenty of trial and error. To maintain scoring potential, Hudson’s top three point producers — Calleja (23.8 per game), juniors Shawn Esajas (18.6) and Nick Richardson (14.2) — generally won’t be on the court at the same time. Richardson started the season on the second unit, but Esajas has morphed into that group’s leader.
“It keeps us fresh, that way we can play our best for a short period of time, and we can keep our intensity the whole time,” said junior point guard Trae Starks, fourth with 8.6 points per game and assists leader (4.3).
And ready to jack up 3-pointers. Hudson hoists up a healthy 37 a game, making 11 on average, with Calleja (66-for-178) and Richardson (63-158) doing most of the long-distance work.
It’s been quite the evolution for Calleja.
“He’s been on varsity since he was a freshman. That year he made only two 3s, could barely get the ball to the rim from the 3-point line,” Vetter said.
Both coach and sharpshooter fondly recall the last offseason when Vetter was proctoring the SAT. Somehow Calleja found out and tried to get him to open the gym (it didn’t happen). Calleja went from 16 3-point attempts as a freshman to 136, averaging 11 points that 10th-grade year, 19 last season.
Seven times this season he has made either five or six from long range, resulting in three games of exactly 32 points and a high of 42, in a 95-89 loss to Land O’Lakes. Held to just 1-of-10 in the first meeting against Anclote, Calleja got to the line 20 times, making 17 in a 90-88 win.
As a senior, it’s Calleja’s last chance to make the playoffs, and he thinks the system gives Hudson the shot to advance.
“When you get past districts and start playing better teams, say we go half-court with them, they’re gonna outmatch us athletically, and ability wise. So we have to change the game,” he said.
“You gotta get used to it, and it does take a lot of buy-in. You’re running literally 24-7 and especially on offense, you’re not used to being so tired while shooting, driving, dribbling, passing so it’s a process. But it’s fun.”