An inaugural win followed by a dispiriting loss — in addition to another more tragic, off-court loss — began the season for the Bainbridge High boys varsity basketball team this year, and left coaches and players alike looking forward with determination and renewed perspective.
“There’s been some tough times around here,” Spartan Head Coach Steve Haizlip said. “But you come in here with this group and their energy is so high. I leave motivated, is what I do. It’s a really special, special group.”
Off-court tragedy marred the island squad’s spirit, even as the season was set to begin.
Islander Troy Biddle, 52, and son Baden Biddle, 13, two longtime Bainbridge basketball figures, were among the four people killed in a Thanksgiving weekend car wreck in California, a hit-and-run, drunk-driving crash near San Pablo. The Biddles had been in California visiting relatives, and the foursome had reportedly spent the Saturday before the accident playing in an annual father-son basketball tournament.
It was a devastating blow to the program, and everyone who knew the Biddles, Haizlip said.
“I was pretty much a wreck,” he recalled. “[Troy] was one of our coaches for Roots, and Baden was one of our players that we’d had for three years in our summer camp, so these guys all know him from that and other things.”
The planned post-Thanksgiving scrimmage game and food drive, meant initially to kick off the season, thus became something more important. The team hosted a dunking and free-throw contest, played a scrimmage match and collected about 300 pounds of food, which was then donated to Hopelink, a philanthropic organization serving homeless and low-income families, children, seniors and people with disabilities.
“It was fun, especially after Thanksgiving, just a very good way to start off the season,” the coach said.
The varsity squad then took the court for the year’s first game just days after the tragedy, and pulled out a 58-53 win against Port Angeles on Nov. 28. The first game of the year is always critical to morale, Haizlip said, and this year’s was even more so.
“I use things as motivation,” he said. “I told the guys I’ll dedicate my season toward them and how they worked. Baden was just a workhorse of a competitor, and Troy was all about fundamentals and doing it the right way and working hard.”
A bit of a bummer followed, though, as the BHS team was bested 49-34 by Bishop Blanchet on Dec. 1.
Overall, though, Haizlip said the team was doing everything right.
“First game? Yes. We shot pretty good,” he said earlier this week. “Last game, against Blanchet? No. It was not a good showing on our part. We’ve never done good against Blanchet. I don’t know what — other than last year, we ended on a win — we got to change and have them at the end of the year rather than the beginning.”
Nobody was beating themselves up just yet, however, Haizlip said. There are no easy wins in the Metro League.
“Metro’s going to be Metro,” he laughed. “I think the biggest thing with Metro is all the teams are very well-coached. Our approach is we’re going to go into every game and we’re going to try to play to win. No matter who we’re playing … they all play so hard. There’s a lot of great coaches in this league. That’s what makes it fun.”
Though he expects powerful performances from the usual top dogs in Metro, Haizlip said scouting is a secondary concern for him at this stage.
“I don’t really pay to much attention to it,” he said. “Our focus is on our guys. My belief is that if we prepare, we’ll be able to handle whatever they throw at us. It doesn’t mean we don’t scout. We do. But, usually, at the beginning of the season, I really do focus on us. We have a lot of stuff to get in, in a short amount of time.”
Time, indeed, is always in short supply.
But the Spartans are a tall order themselves.
“I would say we definitely have some height,” the coach said.
In fact, nearly all the varsity Spartans rise above 6 feet (junior Derek Patterson looms largest, at 6-foot-5). Those that aren’t, just barely so.
The team is led on the court by seniors Ethan Schulte, Ben Kirsch, Jack Barnes, Joey Terry, Sky Weschler and Charlie Hoberg.
Hoberg, Terry, and also juniors Jackson Taylor and Spencer Nicholas, are cocaptains.
“I always like to do that,” Haizlip said of the mixed foursome. “I hope, if you can, to have a mix of juniors, seniors, underclassmen, so they can learn.”
“I lean on them heavily,” he said of the captains. “It’s really fun for me to see how they’ve grown from the first year I’ve been here until now. It’s actually pretty cool. They’ve grown a lot and they understand the expectations. They’re doing a great job.”
Additionally, the roster boasts juniors Derek Patterson and Sami Francis, sophomore Jonathan Kussie — and the squad’s solo freshman Andrew Ward.
Ward unfortunately sprained an ankle in the first game of the year, an injury which the coach expects to keep him seated for some time.
“He’s very good, very deserving,” Haizlip said. “We do miss him.
“He’s a good player. He’s good offense, which is what we need,” the coach added.
In fact, solidifying an organized, flexible offense is the top Spartan’s top concern at the moment.
“Defensively, I think we can lack at times,” the coach said. “If we have lapses, I think we can [still] be very good. Scoring, when you have two guys that are your main scorers, we have to find two to three more who can score. We’re working on that. That’s probably my biggest concern right now, is getting buckets.”
Haizlip said he’s pretty tough on the team, especially at this early stage in the season, but always follows said toughness with explanation.
“I push them hard, but I try to show them I’m tough on them and I move on,” he said. “I want them to start developing that mental toughness, like, ‘Hey, if I take a bad shot, so be it. I’m going to move on.’ But, also, not be afraid to take that shot. There’s those fine lines.
“It’s good because they’re a very good group. They really understand. So, I don’t really have any concerns about that aspect of that. They’ll be fine.”
The Spartans will next play at home at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8 against Franklin, and then again at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12 against Lakeside. The very next day they will again play host, this time though to somebody from farther away: a team from St. Francis de Sales in Australia.
“I’m super excited,” the coach said. “JV and varsity will play them. They’re going to stay at the kids’ houses. We’re going to hang out together. For me, it’s all about the experience. I think it’s going to be so fun.”