Wolves go a-camping

Sometimes, just getting the foundation of a winning program laid down is the hardest thing to do. And then there’s the South Kitsap boy’s basketball team, which seems to keep adding layer after layer with each passing year.

And the Wolves aren’t stopping at this point.

South has just concluded a two-week stretch that over the years has become the foundation for a team that has made five straight appearances in the Class 4A state basketball tournament — the final four garnering some hardware.

Last week, coach John Callaghan took three teams to a basketball camp at Gonzaga University in Spokane, while this week saw the varsity players run a camp for the future Wolves.

“I would say it starts with open gym,” Callaghan said of building and keeping his program at a high level. “That’s where I think the odyssey begins again every year. It starts with the open gym and the workouts and then the summer ball.”

And then the camps come.

South starts the hardest stretch of its summer this week by playing in two tournaments, most notably the Tacoma Community College Tournament, and then heads to Spokane for a week of intense learning. After just a day off for the kids, South conducts its own camp for the younger players, one in which the varsity players become coaches.

But it’s the Gonzaga camp that really gets the team’s attention, and that’s where Callaghan says he sees the most improvement.

“The Gonzaga camp is grueling – I mean it is hard,” Callaghan said. “Their coaches, there’s a reason why they’re good. Their coaching staff does just a great job.”

And that staff is running up to three clinics a day, surrounded by constant games. And, yes, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few is out there doing more than just watching.

And this year, he watched as the Wolves wrapped up a most successful camp by winning all 14 of their games, including a last-second come-from-behind win over state power Ferris that saw South score seven points in the game’s final seconds.

“What it does is it reinforces what we’re teaching,” Callaghan said. “Basketball is fundamentals. The terminology might be a little different but a blockout is a blockout and a screen is a screen. What I think really helps is that our guys hear it from us but they also get a chance to hear it from the big guys. It just reinforces everything that we do.”

For many on the Wolves’ squad, this was the second or third trip to the Gonzaga camp, and while none will say it gets any easier, things kind of seem to be not as tough as they once seemed.

“I think it’s just that things are starting to come together a little quicker,” junior guard Tippy Burk said. “We’ve been together for so long, we have better chemistry.”

In fact, senior Conner Gehring said the competition was not what it has been in the past. Or maybe it’s just that South is getting better.

And what’s helped is that Callaghan has been taking some younger kids along. This year, six incoming freshmen made the trip, the most ever by underclassmen.

“It’s impossible for it to not make you better,” Callaghan said, “because it’s hard. It’s just hard. But it makes you better. If you want to be good, it will make you better.”

South was one of 100 teams that played 14 games over four days. Most games were 40 minutes long while the final tournament day saw the games scaled back to a pair of 15-minute halves.

And a lot of the success at the Gonzaga camp carries over to the South camp on two levels. First, the campers get a taste of SK basketball, then the South varsity players get to see things from a different perspective.

“The guys working our camp, it’s as beneficial for our guys as it is for the little guys,” Callaghan said. “Because they’re coaching the kids, I think it makes them understand it even more. The more little kids we can get involved at an early age, the better it’s going to be for our program.”

And once again, the camp was full. In fact, almost too full, Callaghan said.

But some of this year’s campers will most likely be making the trek to Spokane some day and hoping to achieve what this year’s group did.

“We were pretty fortunate against Ferris, but other than that, we played really well,” Callaghan said. “I’m not too concerned about our summer record. Winning the summer championship isn’t what we’re about it. But it’s all preparation for next year. Everything we’re doing now is for next year.”

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