SK has tough act to follow

You’d think a fifth-place finish at the 2003 Class 4A state basketball tournament would put some pressure on the team that had to follow.

Add in a returning 6-foot, 8-inch senior forward fresh off signing a Division I scholarship and there would be even more pressure to produce this year.

Throw in another returning senior, this one 6-7, and the pressure builds.

Now take into account the entire perimeter graduated and the team is still expected to at least duplicate last year’s performance.

Welcome to John Callaghan’s world.

It’s not a bad place to be actually. You have, after all, Jake Beitinger and Adam Bennett returning from a team that went 26-3 and finished fifth the state.

And hey, pressure is a good thing isn’t it?

“Overall, I don’t think there’s any added pressure,” said Callaghan, the South Kitsap boys basketball coach, “other than the pressure you put on yourself. We’re going to play as hard as we can and do everything we can to succeed. And if it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, it definitely won’t be from a lack of effort.”

Or a lack of talent.

The Wolves are loaded this year, starting at the top with Beitinger and Bennett. And it doesn’t stop there.

Beitinger returns for his senior year having just signed to play at Eastern Washington. He averaged 13.4 points a game last year while pulling down an average of 8.8 rebounds. Bennett scored 10.8 points and averaged five rebounds a game last year.

“I think we’re looking pretty good right now,” Bennett said. “I think we can do better than we did last year and the year before that. We’re looking to make a run at state. It should be fun.

“When I look at it now, we were 26-3 and it didn’t really sink in until a month or two after the season was over,” Callaghan said. “Once you get into it, you’re concentrating so much on the next game that wins and losses are not something that you really think about. You want to learn from both, hopefully. But your record is something you look back on and go, ‘Wow, that was pretty cool.’ ”

In order for the Wolves to duplicate last year’s success, a few things have to happen. One, Beitinger has to rebound from a less-than-stellar junior season and Call-aghan must find guards who can score and others who can play defense.

“Obviously the perimeter is where we’re really going to need to concentrate and work,” Callaghan said. “We have talented guys that can step in. I’m confident that our young guys, they’re going to step up. It’s their turn, so they’re going to step up and be OK.”

Callaghan said junior Jamil Moore, at 6-2, will start at point guard while Derrick Webb, a 6-foot junior, will be the team’s shooting guard. Junior Jake Yount, at 6-2, is touted at wing and Mike Lizama, a 5-10 junior, will see plenty of time at point.

“I think we’re going to be OK,” Beitinger said. “We did lose some guys, but I think we have guys that can fill those shoes well.”

Seniors Riley Hawkins, 6-3 forward, and Roey Cosgrove, 5-10 guard, will also be counted on for quality minutes.

Up-and-comers Connor Gehring, a 6-foot, 2-inch sophomore, and Evan Atwater, a 6-foot sophomore wing, will be relied on for crucial minutes. Junior Connor McPherson, a 6-7 forward, will spell Beitinger and Bennett.

“Those guys, it’s just their turn,” Callaghan said. “That happens every year. Now it’s on these guys. Everybody’s going to play so we can get a look at them.

““Jamil, right now, as far as running the show for us, it’s him,” Callaghan said. “And I think Lizama, he could end up playing a huge role. Webb is solid. All the perimeter players, Gehring, all of them, there’s no fear in those guys, no fear. They can play. They’ve been playing and they’re confident.”

South Kitsap will begin the year Saturday at the Rainier Beach Jamboree, facing Garfield and Rainer Beach in a pair of 10-minute mini-games.

“When we go play Garfield and Rainier Beach, we’re not going to play against teams any quicker than that or teams that are going to put any more pressure on us than that, I don’t think,” Callaghan said. “The Utah tournament (later in the year), there’s some national teams there so I think we will be battle-tested when it comes to league time.

“It’s a bonus, since we have Capital (SK’s home-opener Dec. 8) here, which will be a tough game and we’ll get to see some of these young guys and how they react under fire. That will be a good test for us.”

It will also be a test to see if Beitinger can regain the form that landed him a scholarship at Eastern.

“I think he’s way more relaxed this year,” Callaghan said. “I think the recruiting process, it’s incredible, and it’s really draining. That kind of got to him a little bit. I think there were quite a few people in his ear and I think all that kind of built up. Physically, he just wasn’t himself. He was sluggish and indecisive, which is not like him.”

Beitinger said he’s ready to “just play” and get on with his senior year.

“We, basically, just want to get back to state,” Beitinger said. “That’s been the goal each year. Definitely, we want to place higher than we did last year, which was fifth. It’s lofty, but attainable.

Bennett is looking forward to his final season with Beitinger.

“It’s been a blast the past couple of years,” he said. “I’m just trying to eat it all up while I can. It’s always fun playing together. I love being out there with him. I’m looking forward to being a team out there and having fun.”

As with any team, there are key games for South Kitsap this year. The Wolves travel to Salt Lake for the Ragu Classic Dec. 11-13. They also get to play at Key Arena in Seattle Jan. 17 as part of the King Classic.

“It’s nice for these guys to get out and see something other than Port Orchard,” Callaghan said. “It’s fun, and it’s always been a really good team-building experience for us. We’re looking forward to that.”

For the players, there are a few games that stand out. The Wolves won the Bridge Division of the Narrows League last year with a 13-1 mark, the lone loss coming at Gig Harbor, 58-40.

“Definitely Gig Harbor, they’ve always been the team that always battled with us for the league championship,” Beitinger said of the team that handed South Kitsap its lone Bridge Division Narrows League loss last year.

“It’s always a goal to go unbeaten in league play,” Bennett said. “Gig Harbor is always a big game. Every game is a big game for us. Bremerton, obviously, too. It’s a big rivalry. It’s fun, fans come in and pack the gym and that’s always fun playing in front of big crowds.”

Callaghan is as excited as his kids about the upcoming season.

“Every game is a big game and our next game is our biggest game,” Callaghan said. “Obviously, it’s always fun when we play Gig Harbor and when we play Bremerton. Those two games in particular are always played in front of packed houses. It’s pretty intense, which is awesome, and if you don’t get to those games early, you don’t get in. So those games are ones that we always look forward, too.

“I think the sky’s the limit, for sure,” Callaghan said. “I would hope that we aim pretty high. In fact, this weekend we’ll sit down and talk team goals and get a few other things straight. But the sky’s the limit for us. I have a lot of confidence. Out of 2,600 kids at this school, that’s the best 11 guys. I’m pretty confident in them.”

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