Sports

What's a conflicted sports fan to do?

The high school winter sports season has barely gotten started and already there’s conflict — tough decisions to be made and a general feeling of helplessness.

And that’s just from my side of things.

And it doesn’t help matters much when over the course of last week I find out that the University of Texas will finally get a chance to play for the NCAA championship in football — unfortunately, they’ll do it on the same night the South Kitsap boys basketball team faces the biggest game of its young season when highly touted Gig Harbor comes to town.

I’m not looking forward to Jan. 4 as much as I should be. Not when two big-time games, pitting big-time teams with so much on the line, are being played at the same time.

What’s a sportswriter from Texas to do? Do I stay home and watch my beloved Longhorns win their first national title since 1970, or do I go do my job and cover what has the potential of being one of the year’s best high school basketball games?

For me, this is like having to choose between Texas-style barbeque and Mexican food – I can’t go wrong with either, but I’ll always wonder about not picking the other.

The good news is I have a month to make that decision. The even better news is that the winter season truly gets under way tonight, and I, for once, am happy to see it here.

I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming basketball and wrestling seasons ever since they ended just under a year a year. Why? Because this session shapes up to be one of the best in school history.

So as I try to figure out just exactly what I’ll be doing on Jan. 4, here are a few thoughts and predictions on what to expect in the coming months from the boys basketball team.

Last year, when I wrote that the Wolves would be a better team than the one that preceded it, no one believed me. Maybe this year, y’all will believe me when I say the same thing.

I’m not saying this group will finish holding a bigger trophy, end the year ranked No. 1 in the state (although they start the year ranked fourth in the Seattle Times poll) or have a better record than it did a season ago. I’m just saying, from top to bottom, player to player, this team is and will be better.

Just take a look at what coach John Callaghan, who in my opinion is the best high school coach in this part of the state, has to work with and it all becomes quite clear, I think.

The Wolves return three starters and the team’s sixth man from last year’s 26-3 team that finished a disappointing sixth at the Tacoma Dome. Those guys mixed in with more depth and quality players should be enough.

But consider the following:

Senior post Josh Monagle has more than 18 months of learning Callaghan’s system under his wing now and should be a more dominant force under the basket.

Senior wing Conner Gehring will be a three-year starter and has the capability to put up monstrous numbers. This is his final chance to step forward and show the area what he’s all about — and I think he’ll do just that.

Junior Tippy Burk was the best point guard in the Narrows League last year, and will be again this year. His ball-handling skills are outstanding, but his defense is even better, and I think he will look to score a little more this year.

Senior post Ryan Sweet, to me, will be the man this year. He was the first off the bench last year and produced every time. For Sweet to average 15 points and 10 rebounds a game is not out of the question. In fact, I see him bettering those numbers and making a case for the Bridge Division’s player of the year.

Junior guard L.P. Neloms rounds out the starting lineup and will be the biggest question mark only because he saw limited action off the bench last season. But with a lot of floor time in the final two games last year, where he proved his ball-handling skills and knack for scoring, he will slide easily into the starting five and play well.

That leaves a deep and solid bench with the likes of seniors Joe Pisa, Jared Privatt, Dan Nelson, Ty Curry and Evan Atwater, the latter two being three-year varsity lettermen.

I like the makeup of this team — and even more, I like the fact that Gig Harbor has already been touted as the team to beat.

That should get this group even more motivated to repeat last year’s success and take it a little bit further.

As for me and my dilemma, I suspect the way this team plays over the first month of the season will help me decide just where I’ll be Jan. 4.

And knowing this group like I do, it will be one hell of a call to make.

Jeff Wilson can be reached at (360) 876-4414, or by e-mail at sports@portorchardindependent.com.

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