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Tigers are in transition

by Chuck Smock

Six members of the Douglas basketball team had only two weeks to get over the bumps and bruises they accumulated during a football season that included a trip to the playoffs.

But, on a team that features very little returning varsity experience, the athleticism and enthusiasm the six players brought with them has helped the Tigers jump out to a surprising 3-1 record to start the season.

Seniors Kyle Baker and Josh Wilcox both return to the varsity squad. Senior Kevin Smith and junior Jared Kenison played JV ball last winter. And seniors Brandon Griffith and J.P. Patay didn’t play basketball at all as juniors.

None of the six is quick to brag about his basketball skills, but Douglas head coach Keith Lewis is happy to have them.

“I think it’s great,” Lewis said. “At some schools there’s so much jealousy. Football coaches don’t want their players to play basketball and basketball coaches don’t want their players to play football.

“I went to a small school where I played everything. I think it’s really important that they play multiple sports. These kids are too young to specialize.”

More than half of the Tigers have participated in other varsity sports at Douglas. Baker and senior Mike Saylo both play baseball. Junior Robby Honer started at midfield for the soccer team last fall. Roland Haas, Kenison and Patay all run track. Jared Petersen was the Tigers’ top cross country runner as a junior.

And that variety of athletic experience is a nice complement to junior Seth Lee and seniors Taylor Cohee, Kipp Baird and Petersen – Douglas gym rats who prefer to concentrate on basketball.

Baker injured his knee in the Tigers’ football win over Hug High. He missed the next two games, but didn’t need surgery. Baker was determined to finish his senior season on the field and he returned in time to help Douglas beat Fallon and Carson and qualify for the playoffs.

Division II coaches rewarded Baker for efforts with second-team, all-division honors at running back and punter.

He shows no signs of the knee injury.

“It’s not even a bother to me,” Baker said. “The brace bothers me, but not the knee.”

And he added that the lessons he’s learned on the football field carry over onto the basketball court.

“Football teaches you that you get out of it what you put into it,” Baker said. “And it’s the same thing with basketball.

“Coach (Mike) Rippee instills good qualities that can be used in basketball, like hustle, hard work, never giving up. I don’t have any basketball ability at all. I just try to go my hardest and see if good things can happen from it.”

Baker said he didn’t try to talk any of his football teammates into trying out for the basketball team, but he did offer a little advice.

“Brandon and some of the seniors were afraid of not making the team,” Baker said. “Basically, I just told them coach Lewis looks at hustle and attitude as much as ability. Brandon just went out and hustled, showed his leadership abilities and he’s starting for us (Friday at McQueen.) He earned it.”

Griffith didn’t play basketball last year because he wanted to spend more time in the weight room getting ready for his senior football season as the Tigers quarterback.

He played junior varsity basketball as a sophomore. He played for Carson Valley Middle School as a 7th- and 8th-grader and made the DHS freshman team, too.

Griffith attended every home game last season, though, and was one of the ring-leaders of a raucous student cheering section that never failed to get the attention of opposing coaches and players

“I still had fun with it, so it wasn’t too bad,” Griffith said of his first hoops season on the sidelines. “But I did miss it.”

He didn’t miss a beat, however. The skills required to play quarterback on the football team has allowed Griffith to make an easy transition into a leadership role on the basketball floor.

“I wasn’t expecting much playing time, but I’m getting more than I thought I would and I’m having a blast right now,” Griffith said. “We’re off to a good start and that makes it better. I’m loving it right now.”

And he doesn’t have any delusions about why he’s getting extended minutes in Lewis’ system -a system that rewards discipline, execution and hard work with playing time.

“Coach has been telling me I’m vocal and kind of a leader,” said Griffith, who was an honorable mention All-Division II selection at quarterback. “A lot of the guys have talent, like Seth (Lee, the Tigers leading scorer). I bring something else. It (the playing time) is not because of skill.”

Wilcox is currently out of action while undergoing medical tests to determine the cause of recent dizzy spells. He said he could be back in the lineup in two weeks in a best-case scenario.

The senior defensive back played on the varsity basketball team last year – Lewis’ first as the Tigers’ head coach. He learned first-hand that the discipline the new coach demanded from his players often was exacted through lap after lap of punitive running drills.

“Football is a lot of discipline,” said Wilcox, who earned honorable mention All-Division II recognition at cornerback. “We were all ready for the structured practices coach (Lewis) runs. The transition was pretty easy, especially the conditioning aspect because all of us were in good shape.”

Patay was an All-Division II honorable mention selection at wide receiver as a senior. He didn’t play basketball last season, but hasn’t wasted any time making a bid for minutes at point guard.

“I think Justin is getting more comfortable,” Lewis said. “He needs some seasoning, but in the last couple games we’ve definitely seen some improvement. He’s one of the important ones. We’re going to need some valuable minutes out of him.”

Smith is the Tigers’ tallest player at 6-foot-5. He lacks playing experience, but has the ability to fill a key role.

“I’ve been somewhat impressed with him,” Lewis said. “He works hard. As he gets more experience, in terms of practice and games, he has the potential to help us. He’s still learning the offense, but he rebounds real well.”

Kenison started in the defensive backfield last fall and was the Tigers’ backup quarterback.

“He’s been a very pleasant surprise,” Lewis said. “Offensively, we have to get him going. He has to learn to shoot when he’s open. His first instinct is to pass the ball. Defensively he’s been very solid. He’s a physical player and he’s not afraid to play a physical game. He’s a little raw basketballwise, but because of his athleticism he gets a lot of things done.”

Another football player, Brian Turley, is also hoping to make an appearance on the basketball floor this season. The junior linebacker/running back suffered a football injury to his left knee that required surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in October.

“I’m rehabbing real hard,” Turley said. “Being able to dress for one game this year will be like icing on the cake.”

Baker is quick to add that he and his football buddies are trying to make sure the concept of team unity is extended to every player on the basketball roster.

“Mr. (Ernie) Monfiletto (the DHS offensive coordinator) always said you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” Baker said. “We know we can’t do it individually or as a small group. We know we’ll have to work as a team.”

And in that regard, the Tigers are way ahead of where they were a year ago, according to Baker.

“Last year, we never really did gel as a team,” he said. “This year, we’re already close as a team. There’s no team fighting. Last year we had problems with jealousy, but this year we’re so much more of a team.”