WEST VALLEY — The West Valley boys varsity basketball team has a new look, after losing four starters to graduation. One holdover from last year’s squad will be Derek Wells. The returning starter is one of four seniors who will look to help groom a relatively young team.
“He’s our most important part. He’s our team leader,” said West Valley coach Jason Kearney. “He’s been a big part of what we do and, if we want to be successful, he really has to step up, offensively. We know he is a great defender. He’s an excellent competitor. He’s a great leader, but he’s been working on his shot and driving to hoop. We’re going to look for some big offensive numbers from him.”
West Valley will need to replace second-team all-stars Colton Myers and Mike Grigsby, who have graduated. Those two guards combined to score 441 points, last season. To fill that scoring void, Kearney will look to Wells and a number of other players.
“We’ve worked tirelessly on ball movement and being disciplined on offense, not just going through the motions,” said Kearney. “It takes every, single person. It’s not just having your best shooter going out there, scoring all the points. It’s the screens; it’s the timing and it’s the movement. We’ve worked endlessly on it and it’s really starting to show, on the offensive end. All five guys on the floor will contribute, offensively.”
Losing four starters seemed difficult to overcome, according to Kearney, but his team participated in a team camp, over the summer, as well as playing in a summer league. That time together has shown in practice, the coach added.
“Losing those guys wasn’t as difficult as I thought,” he said. “Because of the work over the summer, the guys have really come together quite well. They’ve filled a lot of the empty voids that we lost, through hard work and just working together and playing together. Losing seven seniors, four of which were three-year starters; that’s tough to fill, no matter what.”
Two juniors who will be transitioning to varsity ball are Patrick Enser and Emil Erlandson. Both are 6-footers who play both guard and forward. Kearney would like to use both players’ versatility to create mismatches. Erlandson has made significant improvements since last year, according to Kearney.
“Emil has really improved. He’s been very disciplined and does a lot of the little things right,” Kearney explained. “He’s very coachable. Emil has worked hard to improve his defense, as well.”
Junior guard Jared Ras handled the ball on junior varsity, last season, and will see time at both guard positions on varsity. Jacob Sloand will play guard, as well. Senior Brandon Rockwood, a 6-foot, 5-inch forward, is injured right now and his return is unclear. Collin Proctor, another forward, is a senior who saw significant playing time, last year, as one of the team’s top rebounders.
“He might be a little undersized on the roster, but he’s the most athletic guy we have;” said Kearney. “He’s the fastest guy we have, he’s the strongest guy we have, he can jump the highest. A lot of people don’t notice what he does, because a lot of it don’t show up on the stat sheet. Yeah, rebounds do, but all the little things he does are huge; rotating properly on defense, the boxing out, the sealing people off, all the hustle plays.”
Other forwards include senior Jesse Nelson and junior Jacob Ploetz. Kearney said that he would like to take advantage of his team’s speed and playing more man-to-man defense, but the defensive philosophy will change, on a game-to-game basis.
“We’re long and athletic enough to go man, but we might run into size mismatches, where we’ll fall back into a zone,” Kearney said. “We like to press the issue, a little bit. I don’t like to just sit down in a zone; I like to throw different schemes, traps and different things like that, to change it up.”
West Valley traveled to Clymer on Dec. 3.