If this is what the future of Bainbridge basketball looks like, the Spartans may have to wear shades.
But listen to Bainbridge Coach Scott Orness, and he’ll tell you that this year’s Spartan squad is young, young, young. And tomorrow’s another day.
“We’ve got seven sophomores on our team; we’re young. I’ve never in 15 years had seven sophomores on varsity,” Orness said.
It’s not a seven-ways-till-Sunday situation, however. Team practices started Nov. 12. And with a jamboree and the first game of the season under his belt, Orness likes what he sees.
Orness praised his team for their hard work ethic, and said it’s something that just didn’t start the second week of November.
“We always tell our players, tryouts don’t start in November, they start as soon as the season is over,” he said.
“We just had a tremendous commitment from all of our players to get in the weight room, and work on their game individually, and we played a combined 90 games in the program this summer between all three teams,” Orness said.
“They’ve been working hard. And we hope we will see the fruits of our labor here this year and next.”
Orness is back at BHS for the second straight year after a three-year hiatus that took him to Woodward Middle School, where he guided the boys team to three straight league championships.
In his earlier tour of duty as the head coach of the Spartans, from 2001 to the 2007-08 season, he took the team to the Metro League playoffs six years in a row.
Orness’ banner season was in 2006-07, when the team won the Metro’s Mountain Division, claimed the SeaKing District crown, and made a thrilling run through the 3A state basketball tournament, finishing second at the big dance to O’Dea. Orness was the Metro League’s Coach of the Year, and earned Comcast Washington State Coach of the Year honors, as well.
On last year’s return, he found the toughest league in the state at any level — Metro — waiting. The Spartans went 11-13 overall.
This season, the ball got rolling at a jamboree at South Kitsap Nov. 24.
“Jamborees are all about getting the first-game jitters out. It just gives a different look,” he said.
The Spartans played 10-minute games, losing to Olympic by three but coming back to beat South Kitsap in the second matchup.
Bainbridge played two sophomores in the back court, 5’10 guard Trent Schulte and 5’10 Blake Swanson.
They handled the pressure well, Orness said.
“They did a tremendous job in their first varsity start,” he said.
“I loved how unselfish our players were playing. They moved the ball well. Defensively, I felt our bigs were a real presence inside, which we’ve been working on all summer,” Orness said.
He did note room for improvement, however.
“Transition defense was probably the biggest thing that I saw. And taking care of the basketball. Those two things we’ve got to make sure we do,” he said.
“I see it as a sign of mental toughness, and it’s a young group. We’re going to have to grow up real fast or we’re going to struggle,” Orness said.
That said, it was just a jamboree.
“It’s hard to tell anything from a jamboree. One thing I do know — and I heard a parent even say it — it looks like it wasn’t the first time they played together. So that’s a compliment for our guys, who are really working and have good teamwork on the court,” he said.
The Spartans go into the season with two significant losses to graduation: shooter Rico Failla, a 6’2 guard now playing basketball at Santa Barbara Community College; and last year’s rebound leader Chris Bell (and All-Metro quarterback), who is now playing football at Iowa Central Community College.
“We lost 75 percent of our offense and 80 percent of our rebounding,” Orness said. “So anytime you lose that amount, you’re starting from the ground up.”
Still, three Spartans who saw substantial minutes last year are back: Nick Edens, Oskar Dieterich and Joey Blacker.
Edens, a 6’7 junior, plays the wing/post and was a starter last year.
“He can shoot it outside and he’s crafty inside. He’s worked really hard in the offseason,” Orness added. “He’s got to fill a lot of that 75-percent scoring loss.”
“Same thing with Joey Blacker,” the coach said of his junior 6’3 guard. “We need him to be able to not just shoot the ball on the perimeter but be able to go to the hole and expand his game.”
The play of Dieterich, a 6’6 sophomore wing/post, will also be crucial.
“Dieterich ... has to be a defensive presence and he’s got to be able to finish inside,” Orness said.
“After that, we’re really young, with basically zero varsity experience,” Orness said.
Even so, the Spartans are ready to step it up.
“For how young they are, they really do understand what team is,” Orness said, recalling the retreat they took at the end of the first week of practice to the coach’s family cabin on Vashon Island.
“They really understand what it takes. It’s just a matter of us being able to consistently give everything to those roles for 32 minutes a game. And that’s hard, especially when you’re young,” he said.
Bainbridge started the season with a non-league game at home against Sequim Tuesday and won, 84-67.
Truer tests lie ahead with the start of league play. A daunting road game is coming Dec. 18, against Rainier Beach.
“3A Metro is the toughest basketball league in the state, hand’s down, regardless of the classification,” Orness said.
“The big guns in the league, Rainier Beach, they’re returning state champions. They lost one player only. And they replaced that player with the No. 17 shooting guard in the country who moved up from California. He’s a 6’7 junior shooting guard; he’s tough.”
Rainier Beach is the obvious favorite to win it all again.
“And O’Dea, Seattle Prep and Franklin will be right there behind them. Those are the biggest tests of the season,” Orness said.
“But every game will be a test for us.”
Though a return to the state tournament is the team’s goal, getting there will take one day at a time.
“You’ve really got to make a commitment every day in practice and in every game,” Orness said. “You can’t have any letdowns.
“Any season and any game is a roller coaster. There’s ups and downs,” he added. “And you’ve got to recognize when you are starting to head down that hill and be able to turn things around quickly. And it can’t always come from the coach. It has to come from leadership on the court.
“And we’ll find out what kind of team we are and what kind of character we have on our team when we face our first hill,” he said.