Zach Lord a dominant presence in post

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Zach Lord goes up for a shot between Wimberley defenders during a non-district game Jan. 6 at Liberty Hill High School. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Zach Lord goes up for a shot between Wimberley defenders during a non-district game Jan. 6 at Liberty Hill High School. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By BOB VARMETTE

Liberty Hill’s Zach Lord is a big guy.

Runnin’ Panthers coach Barry Boren recalled the first time he met Lord. It was in first grade.

“He was in my wife’s first-grade class and she had to have a special chair for him to sit in,” Boren said. “I said to him and his parents that he was going to be a 7-footer and I was going to coach him.”

Fast forward about a decade and Lord is 6-foot-9 and as a sophomore is already in his second year of starting for the Panthers, who just finished a 21-0 pre-district schedule and are ranked fifth in Class 4A.

Few teams have a player of Lord’s size. Very few have a player like junior Aedan Welch – 6-5 and 250 pounds – to complement him.

The Panthers’ bigs are a big reason for their success.

“They both present a presence on both ends of the floor,” Boren said. “That’s a luxury we have that maybe some other teams don’t have.”

Because Lord and Welch play the same position – post – they’re never on the floor at the same time. That’s not likely to change in the future, Boren said.

Having Lord as the starter and Welch come off the bench gives the Panthers a big advantage with their interchangeability. Lord sees the majority of the playing time, but Welch also sees significant time.

Their stats reflect that.

Lord is Liberty Hill’s second-leading scorer with 14.4 points per game, while Welch averages 5.0 per contest. Lord tops the Panthers in rebounding with 6.4 per game, while Welch grabs 5.4 on average. Welch, though, leads in blocked shots – 31 to Lord’s 30.

“(Boren) pushes us and we push each other,” Welch said. “There’s not a day after practice that we’re not in here shooting or doing something. Unless coach gets mad at us for doing it.”

They’ve worked at it – to be more than just big guys, but big basketball players. And players with more to their game than just grabbing rebounds and swatting away shots.

Lord is a 41.4 percent shooter from beyond the arc; Welch shoots 44.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, although he’s only had nine attempts. But each can hurt an opponent if he’s left alone out there.

That’s part of developing the players and not just using their size.

“When (Lord) came into high school last year, 6-7 and 260, he was big, but he had no idea how hard he needed to play,” Boren said. “He didn’t know how to push himself. He had a lot of skill, but those skills hadn’t been refined. The work that he did and the improvement that he made from last year to this year is phenomenal. He grew 2 inches and he lost 20 pounds. His movement, his hands, his touch, his footwork are phenomenal, and he’s only a sophomore.”

That freshman season was a scary one, Lord said. And an eye-opener.

“Coming from eighth grade, when I was 6-5, I just thought it was going to be handed to me,” Lord said. “So that whole year was an awakening for me. I was immature and weak. This year, I’m maturing and I’m a lot stronger, mentally and physically.

“When I was little, they’d just throw it up to me. When I hit varsity, it really changed the way I looked at things. I have to work harder and really push myself a lot more,” he said. Lord’s transformation in one season has been impressive, Boren said. Welch’s transformation goes even beyond that.

“He came into his freshman year and he was totally, totally, totally overwhelmed,” Boren said. “But to his credit, instead of being discouraged and giving up, he just went to work. What’s happened is he’s really chiseled his body into a really good basketball player, and also a good-looking athlete. He’s 6-5, weighs 250 and he’s strong as an ox, and he can run like, I would say a deer, but more like a lion. He can cover some ground.

“He really hasn’t been playing basketball but just for a few years. His improvement has been very drastic,” Boren said.

Despite the development – the transformation – each is still looking to be more of a presence.

“Sometimes, I wish I was bigger,” Welch said. “It just depends on how I’m playing that game. Sometimes, I hate it when the little fast guys are running around me.”

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