Wolves hoping to answer some questions at Gonzaga camp

For the past six years, the South Kitsap boys’ basketball team has advanced to the Class 4A state basketball tournament, won its share of games and a few trophies, and then used the summer to reload for another run.

It’s a formula that’s worked well, and the Wolves are sticking to it again this year.

South finished up play in the Tacoma Community College Summer League earlier this week and headed to the Gonzaga Basketball camp in Spokane on Thursday.

But one thing is very different this year – there’s a shortage of experienced players to draw from.

“It’s like any other year – it’s someone else’s opportunity,” South coach John Callaghan said. “We were so senior-dominated last year, and when you look at the guys coming back this year, we’re going to be senior-dominated again. And I think that’s huge.”

South started three seniors on last year’s team that went 27-2 and placed third at the state tournament. The first two players off the bench were seniors.

But gone are three-year starter Conner Gehring, two-year starter Josh Monagle, Ryan Sweet, who became a starter last year, and key reserves Tysaiah Curry and Evan Atwater.

And as the season wore down to its conclusion, the rotation of players coming off the bench got smaller and smaller.

That leaves South with just three experienced players — returning starters Tippy Burk and L.P. Neloms, and Joe Pisa, who came off the bench last year. All three are battle-tested and will be the core group the Wolves build around once basketball season hits in November.

“We’ve gotten better and better,” Callaghan said. “They worked pretty hard through the spring with the open gyms and the workouts.”

With two years of experience each for Burk, Neloms and Pisa, Callaghan said he’s not worried about there play. But it’s the guys coming in that the focus will be on.

Will they, or can they, step up and become the kind of players those before them became?

So far this summer, Garrett Boone (6-4) and Kris Carlson (6-4) have looked good, Callaghan said. The biggest positive surprise has been 6-5 post Nick Johnson.

“He’s going to surprise some people,” Callaghan said of Johnson. “He boards and has a really nice touch.”

Gibson Davies and Cory Hoffman are two more who have begun to show signs of their potential this summer, as have Chip Pierson and Jaron Green.

“Our nucleus is nice. We’re going to be OK,” Callaghan said. “And they’re going to get more comfortable and play better. We have seniors that are going to come in and do the job for us. I can see at least six seniors that will play major roles for us next year. And when you look at it like that, that’s exciting.”

But first, the Wolves have to get through a tough Gonzaga camp. South left Thursday on its annual trip to Spokane, but this year more kids are making the trip.

Callaghan said he’s taking his varsity, junior varsity and ninth-grade squads.

“I’m excited about our young guys, they’re really nails,” Callaghan said.

While South hits the Gonzaga camp with plenty of question marks about its future lineup, it also will be sporting a somewhat newer coaching lineup, at least for this summer.

Assistant coaches Darren Bowden and David Rodriguez are taking the summer off to tend to personal matters, so Callaghan will have Don Wilson and Justin Anderson making the trip to camp this year.

Of course, it will be Bulldog coach Mark Few and his staff who will be doing the majority of the work.

“That’s why we go there,” Callaghan said. “There are a lot of other camps that are maybe a little less money and not so far away. But a lot of things we do are similar to what Gonzaga does.

“There are two reasons for (Gonzaga’s) success - team chemistry and player development,” Callaghan said. “And the coaching at Gonzaga, that’s the No. 1 reason why we go there. Their coaches are actively involved in the camp.”

The Wolves return from Spokane on Monday and will take the Fourth of July off before hitting the courts for their own summer camp. Then it’s back to play in the Gig Harbor Tournament toward the middle of the month.

Open gym and workouts will resume a week after school starts in September.

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