Sports

Boys hoopsters eager for state encore

Five returners ready to lead Spartans back to UW in March.

When a movie, a TV show or an album becomes a runaway blockbuster, there’s always the pressure to repeat that success for the sequel, the next season or the next album.

Bainbridge boys’ basketball head coach Scott Orness understands the expectations that come with what they did last year on the hardwood.

“The offseason, just like last year and the years before it, (always has) a lot of hope and a lot of anticipation of what the season’s going to be,” he said. “It’s a fun time of year and it’s an exciting time of year.”

Last year was an exciting time to be a Spartan basketball fan, as Bainbridge went 26-4 and made it to the state championship game for the first time since 1955.

Though they lost to rival O’Dea, the Spartans had many memorable moments, including their first Metro League Mountain Division title with a win over the Irish in front of a record crowd of 2,200, and their first 3A Sea-King District 2 title along with being ranked at number one for most of the year.

But Orness doesn’t think of last year as being a once in a lifetime season.

“Every year there are certain teams in this state that have a certain level of talent and talented players that have the potential to win a state title and we were one of probably 10 teams,” he said. “O’Dea had the experience to get there and I think we had the team chemistry and work ethic to get there.”

“It was a great season,” Caleb Davis said. “But this is a new group of guys and a completely different team. Guys are stepping up so we gotta remember it and work hard to get ready for this season.”

They’ll have to work harder as they lose seven seniors from last year’s team, including their sixth man in Rudy Sharar and three starters in Austin Wood, Coby Gibler and all-world guard Steven Gray.

All four were All-Metro selections while Gibler was named to the 3A all-state tournament team along with Gray, who collected accolades including the Metro League MVP, the Seattle Times MVP for 3A and all classifications, and the Associated Press’ Player of the Year for 3A and all classifications.

With several players off to college – and Gibler at Highline Community College and Gray at Gonzaga to continue their basketball careers – there are five returners ready to lead Bainbridge back to the state tournament.

Chief among those are the team’s top players in senior guards Nick Fling and Davis.

The two were All-Metro selections last year and have been consistently successful in their time on the team.

“I think we have one of the best backcourts in the league,” Orness said. “And if you have one of the best backcourts in the Metro League, then you have one of the best ones in the state.”

Also returning is junior forward/center Ben Eisenhardt, who was big off the bench for the Spartans last season.

“We have one of the best big men – probably the best big man (returning) since there aren’t a ton of big men in the Metro League this year,” Orness said. “He’s gained about 30 to 35 pounds and he’s playing with a lot of confidence.

“So when you have those two components – you have a inside game and you have good guard play, it’s going to make you competitive against any team you face.”

Also returning are senior guard Jesse Powell and senior wing Mike Walsh.

Both didn’t see much action last year (Walsh was out most of the season with a knee injury) but both have improved tremendously, according to Orness.

“Mike had a phenomenal summer – just shockingly great – and became a real asset,” he said. “He’s our blue collar guy, defensively and offensively.

“Jesse has become a very reliable ballplayer and tenacious defender,” Orness continued. “So you throw all that in with our three core guys, I think we have a pretty good group of five there.”

Among the newcomers to the team are seniors Brian Brown (a transfer from Alaska) and Dillan Harness, juniors Matt Hawk and Paul Weese and sophomores Jimmy Baggett, Ryan Burris, John Masla and Will DiIorio.

“It’s a very talented sophomore group,” Orness said. “All of them are going to have an opportunity to play on the varsity level.”

Baggett started all 20 games for the junior varsity team at point guard while Burris averaged 18 points for the freshman team.

Masla, DiIorio, Hawk and Weiss also saw major time with the JV team as well.

The new faces bring about a shift in how they’ll gameplan for opponents this season.

Orness feels the team as a whole is quicker than last season and can hang with anybody thanks to the athleticism of its players.

“Those top five guys, they can go the distance,” he said. “They’re great athletes, they’re in great shape, they’ve been in the weight room and they can go the distance.”

Bainbridge also has a height advantage – everyone is six feet or taller – but there’s not as many big men as they’ve had in the past.

He’s also concerned about the Spartans’ rebounding and its depth, as many players are first-year members of the varsity team.

They’ll need to figure it out quick, as they battle a Metro League that has seen more change than an NBA offseason.

From O’Dea’s top assistant in Gregg Kalina leaving along with several players to Rainier Beach gaining transfers from several schools, the balance of power has shifted considerably.

Orness isn’t happy about it.

“That’s my biggest complaint about the Metro League,” he said. “It’s not a level playing field.

“Sometimes schools get (a good transfer) once every five, six, seven years and when it happens every year, people gotta wonder what’s going on.”

But Davis said they’ll focus on what they can handle.

“What we should worry about is our team and how we prepare for those teams,” he said. “Just try to prepare and play the best we can.”

“It’s exciting,” Fling said of the changes. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

And they’ll be ready to get back to the big time in March.

“It was a wake-up call,” Fling said of that Saturday night in March. “Playing at state is a whole other level that we’ve never been to.

“The guys returning got a taste of that, and that’s where we want to go.”

Bainbridge opens with the Island Jamboree Nov. 24 at 2 p.m.

Kamiak, Port Angeles and North Kitsap come to the island.

The Spartans open the season against the Vikings at home Nov. 27.

Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.

*********************************************************************

2007-08 boys basketball

? The Spartans get seven of their last 11 games at home. They also take part in the Bellevue Community College Holiday tournament over Winter Break.

Sat., Nov. 24 - Island Jamboree at BHS, 2 p.m.

Tues., Nov. 27 - North Kitsap, 7:30 p.m.

Tues., Dec. 4 - at Ingraham, 7:30 p.m.

Fri., Dec. 7 - Nathan Hale, 8 p.m.

Tues., Dec. 11 - at West Seattle, 7:30 p.m.

Fri., Dec. 14 - at Lakeside, 6:15 p.m.

Tues., Dec. 18 - Bishop Blanchet, 7:30 p.m.

Fri., Dec. 21 - at Seattle Prep, 8 p.m.

Wed., Dec. 26-28 - at BCC Holiday Tournament

Mon., Jan. 7, 2008 - South West Roos (Australia), 7 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 8, 2008 - Eastside Catholic, 7:30 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 11, 2008 - O’Dea, 6:15 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 15 - Cleveland, 7:30 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 18 - Chief Sealth, 8 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 22 - at Rainier Beach, 7:30 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 25 - Lakeside, 6:15 p.m.

Tues., Jan. 29 - at Bishop Blanchet, 7:30 p.m.

Fri., Feb. 1 - Seattle Prep, 8 p.m.

Tues., Feb. 5 - at Eastside Catholic, 6:15 p.m.

Thur., Feb. 7 - at O’Dea, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 11-16 - Metro League tournament, locations TBA

Feb. 18-Mar. 1 - District tournament, locations TBA

Mar. 5-8 - State tournament, Bank Of America Arena, Seattle

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