SK primed for return visit in 2006

Just about a year ago, after South Kitsap had placed second in the 2004 Class 4A state basketball tournament, John Callaghan made an interesting statement.

The South coach said he and his team would be back the next year to make another run at the title.

That statement caught many off-guard since Callaghan was losing two of the best players, Adam Bennett and Jake Beitinger, to ever come through the school.

Just moments after his 2005 team placed sixth at the state tourney, Callaghan made no such comment regarding next year.

He didn’t have to.

Callaghan’s basketball program is now to the point where not qualifying for the tournament would be news, and a quick look at what he will have to work with next year should have the South Kitsap basketball community drooling with anticipation.

“It was a great learning experience,” Callaghan said. “We return eight guys that got some pretty valuable experience here, so that’s going to help us next year.”

Of the 12 players on the Wolves’ roster, only four — Derrick Webb, Jamil Moore, Connor McPherson and Jake Yount — were seniors. And only two of those were starters.

That means the core group of point guard Tippy Burk, wing Conner Gehring and post Josh Monagle return with state experience under their waistbands.

Throw L.P. Neloms and Ryan Sweet, both of whom saw extensive playing time, into that mix and there’s a recipe for yet more success.

“I think the young guys will come away from all of this with some great experience,” Callaghan said. “And I look forward to them playing well next year.” 

Callaghan has every right to think that way after this year’s team ran the table in the Narrows League Bridge Division and won 24 games in a row before losing to Bethel 54-53 in the West Central District title game last week.

Even though the Wolves finished 26-3 and in sixth place, there’s plenty to build on.

And it all starts with Burk, the sophomore who played a like senior.

Having gone through a full year and the state playoffs will only make the scrappy one even better. He now knows what it takes to win the title and should provide the leadership and stability to help get it down.

For Gehring, going to state is getting to be a regular occurrence. The junior is coming off his second trip and will be called on next year for more of everything, including leadership, points and defense.

And he should be able to deliver.

Monagle may have gotten the most out of the whole experience. Having transferred in from Alaska, the junior got his first taste of big-time high school ball and has plenty of things to work on to keep busy over the offseason. His presence in the middle was huge but his point production down the stretch slipped.

But the biggest growth of this team took place in Sweet and Neloms, who have emerged as the pair that will most likely move into the starting five.

Sweet came on strong as the year winded down and came up big in the tourney, playing tough defense and ripping down key rebounds left and right.

Neloms showed his toughness on defense along with his ball-handling skills and scored when he had to.

Evan Atwater and Ty Curry watched their second tourney from the bench this year and can provide the Wolves with instant offense when called on.

All of that, combined with the likes of Dan Nelson and Larry Dearth, the top two players of the South junior varsity, have to have Callaghan smiling.

“We'll be all right,” Callaghan said. “It will take some time to get over this one but we’ll be back.”

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