SK hopes to avoid rebuilding season

John Callaghan helped make boys basketball relevant at a traditional football school.

The 10th-year South Kitsap coach hopes that the Wolves are entering a reloading rather than rebuilding stage.

After guiding the Wolves to a school record six straight state-playoff appearances, Callaghan’s team was eliminated after consecutive losses in the West Central District Tournament last season.

Now South returns with one of its least experienced rosters in several seasons. Just three seniors — wing Gibson Davies, guard Corey Hoffman and forward Nick Johnson — return this season.

While Callaghan acknowledges the team is young, he said several players gained experience last season.

“It will be interesting,” he said. “They haven’t been thrown into the fire, but that will change in a big way this week.”

The schedule includes tonight’s game against Lincoln and then Friday’s rivalry match against Gig Harbor.

“It definitely is,” said Johnson, who led the Wolves with 15 points in their 70-46 season-opening win Nov. 27 at Tyee. “Lincoln is a good team this year and they have a lot of returning guys. It will show us where we’re at.”

Callaghan said he believes the team will improve after Christmas break — the Wolves are slated to play games from Dec. 27-29 in the Comcast Christmas Classic at Bothell High School before league play resumes in January — but added that inexperience isn’t a reason to grade this team on a curve.

“Our expectations aren’t any less than we ever have headed into the season,” he said.

And there are some elements of this season’s squad that get Callaghan excited. Four years ago, the Wolves used the post presence of 6-foot-8 Jacob Beitinger and 6-7 Adam Bennett to finish second in the state tournament. It was the second-best finish in school history behind the 1950 squad that captured the state championship.

But Callaghan said that some of his teams, including the 2003-04 squad, were unbalanced between frontcourt and backcourt product. He said that isn’t an issue this season.

“Right now we can do different things,” he said. “We can go big or small and quick. We can match up with a variety of players.”

The 6-6 Johnson, who took last season off, might be the best scorer on the team.

“So far it looks that way, but we’ve got a lot of guys who can contribute just as much as I can,” Johnson said.

He’s joined in the frontcourt by 6-5 junior Collin Monagle, who Callaghan said gives the Wolves an interior defensive presence.

Callaghan said they will be joined in the backcourt by Hoffman and junior point guard Tionne Curry. He said the competition for the final starting spot might come from several players, but one who could get a long look is 6-3 sophomore Leon La Deaux.

“Leon can really be something,” said Callaghan, adding that he also is excited about the potential of fellow point guard John Hoffman and forward Joey Osinski, who also are sophomores.

With nine sophomores and juniors on the roster, Callaghan notes that “competition is fierce up here,” now and in the future. Johnson said the group’s inexperience shows at times, “we’ve been beat and it’s been hard to stick with the game plan,” and he’s trying to remind the team to stay focused during the season.

“Basically, it’s a long season and there’s going to be some down times,” Johnson said. “I told the guys that we just need to keep going and work hard. Our division is unbelievably difficult. Hopefully, we’ll be all right.”

Well, at the very least.

“The past teams have done well,” Johnson said. “Our main goal this year is to get back (to state).”

That’s a grading curve this team will accept.

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