Inexperience, strong competition doom Wolves

Jake Beitinger and Adam Bennett weren’t dominating foes in the post. Tippy Burk and LP Neloms weren’t breaking down their counterparts in the backcourt.

Before it started, South Kitsap coach John Callaghan thought that might be for the best. He saw a balanced team with an explosive guard (Tionne Curry), an interior presence (Collin Monagle) and an up-and-comer (Leon La Deaux).

Give it a month and the Wolves would roll.

Or so Callaghan hoped.

It never quite worked that way as South lost four of its last five games and finished 11-10 — one of Callaghan’s worst records in his 10-year tenure at the school.

“It didn’t seem like we had mental toughness at times,” Callaghan said. “When you’re playing 15- and 16-year-olds against 18-year-olds, it’s tough.”

It might have been an ominous sign in the first game of the season, a 74-46 win at Tyee, when senior forward Nick Johnson led the Wolves with 15 points. That was Johnson’s first playing time for them since he was on junior varsity in 2005-06.

Johnson scored 16 points and La Deaux hit 4 of 6 3-pointers en route to 14 points as South earned a 51-50 win Dec. 7 against Gig Harbor. A week later, the Wolves blew a 15-point halftime lead in a 57-52 loss against Foss.

“It just seemed like we never put together a full 32 minutes,” Callaghan said. “We had lapses where we just lost focus.”

Some suggested that the talent level was down compared with the Beitinger-Bennett squad that helped lead the program to a second-place finish in the 2004 state tournament. Or others who helped South to a school record six state-playoff appearances from 2001-06.

But Callaghan feels talent wasn’t one of the primary factors behind the team’s inconsistency.

“Not only were we inexperienced, but our league was better than people thought,” he said. “I don’t think we’re really that far off.”

The Wolves lost four games by more than 10 points this season, but two came against Narrows League Bridge Division champion Lincoln. They also split their season series against a Gig Harbor team that featured future University of Montana forward Mathias Ward, who scored 56 points and grabbed 23 rebounds against Central Kitsap, and lost 61-58 against Bellarmine Prep. That team had junior point guard Abdul Gaddy, who already has committed to Arizona, and a classmate, Avery Bradley, with offers from several Pac-10 schools.

Callaghan cited the team’s close losses — South lost four games by five points or less — and its returning talent as reasons to look forward to next season. The team could feature five seniors who saw significant playing time in 2007-08, including point guards Curry and Ivan Rybachuk, and wing Michael Longmire in the backcourt. At forward, Collin Monagle and Austin Siegel both return, in addition to a pair of juniors-to-be that have Callaghan excited: La Deaux and Joey Osinski.

“I think there’s a lot to look forward to,” Callaghan said. “All of those juniors have a lot of experience. If they build on that, the sky is the limit.”

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