Smallish SK team has lofty goals

Nine months may seem like a long time, but South Kitsap High School boys basketball coach John Callaghan has been waiting for today to come for that long. And so has his team.

And with good reason.

Today brings the start of the 2004-2005 season, and with the way things have been going for South the last few years, there’s reason to be excited about a return trip to Tacoma.

“I’ve been waiting all summer for this,” senior guard Derrick Webb said.

The Wolves hit the court tonight against Wilson in their quest to return to the state tournament for a fifth-straight time and improve on last year’s second-place finish.

“Everyone is looking for us to go back to state,” senior Jamil Moore said. “But we’ll just take them one at a time. We have some tough teams coming up. It’s going to be a fun year.”

At first glance, that seems like a tougher task than normal. Especially since the Wolves lost three key players from a team that went 21-9 last year and fell 65-56 in the Class 4A title game to Kentwood.

Gone are post players Jake Beitinger (Eastern Washington) and Adam Bennett (Whitworth College) and guard Mike Lizama, who moved to Tacoma.

But Callaghan and his returning group are confident they can achieve their goals.

“I think with this group, we can pressure a little bit more,” Callaghan said. “The boards (rebounding) will tell our tale. If we can board, we’ll be fine. Because these guys, Derrick, Jamil and Connor Gehring, are confident no matter who we play, because they’ve been there before. I think we’ll be all right.”

The Wolves will build around seniors Webb (6-2) and Jamil Moore (6-3), both who started all of that year. Webb returns at guard while Moore will move inside to play defense and rebound.

“It’s looking pretty good right now,” Webb said. “It was kind of edgy in the beginning. Of course us, being seniors, we got kind of frustrated but now it’s all clicking in.”

Webb and Moore will be counted on for plenty of things this year — scoring, defense and rebounding — but most important may be stepping into the leadership roles left open by Beitinger and Bennett’s departures.

Junior Connor Gehring (6-4), who started much of last year, returns to play wing, while Josh Mongle (6-6), a transfer from Alaska, is expected to get the call at post.

Sophomore Tippy Burk (5-11) will be counted on to step in at point and run the team.

“The young guys may not have the experience,” Callaghan said, “but they have a lot of talent. Once they get in there, they’ll be fine.”

That starting five will give way to a bench that isn’t real long on experience but is loaded with talent.

Connor McPherson, Jacob Yount, Evan Atwater and Ty Curry return, although none saw significant playing time last year.

They join newbies Ryan Sweet, Joe Pisa and L.P. Neloms, all of whom are new to the team.

“I didn’t know if it would work out at first, with three sophomores coming up,” Webb said. “But they’ve played great and it’s looking good.”

With a smaller, quicker lineup, expect the Wolves to run more this year and be much more aggressive on defense.

“Offensively, we definitely want to get the ball up the floor,” Callaghan said. “We’ll push the tempo but by the same token, we want to be able to grind it out. And these guys will be pretty good at doing both.”

The grind will come in the way of a tough defense, led by Moore who will take on the role of covering the opposing team’s best player.

“We’re going to pressure a lot,” Moore said. “It’s a big change but we’ll just have to come out with intensity and put on the pressure.”

This team should also play very well together since they have been playing with each other for the last nine months on Craig Murray’s Total Package team. That will give them plenty of chemistry and team unity, Moore said.

“We know what each other is like and where they want the ball,” Moore said. “So we have a lot of chemistry.”

And both are looking forward to seeing the Narrows League Bridge Division shift to control of the guards.

Along with Bennett and Beitinger, Bremerton’s Marvin Williams and Shelton’s Bill Richardson are all gone, leaving the league in control of the smaller crowd.

“It’s going to be a battle of the guards,” Webb said. “It’s going to be a back-court kind of year.”

And that plays right into the Wolves plan of being back in Tacoma come March.

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