The pipeline of quality Incline High basketball coaches seems to never run dry.
A season after losing coach Brian Broaddus, who led the Incline boys to a state final and semifinal appearance in his two years at the helm, the Highlanders landed a former Incline standout with coaching credentials that far exceed the standard.
"It's a dream come true to be back at Incline, coaching Incline High. It's pretty surreal, honestly, every time I walk in the gym," said first-year head coach Tim Kelly, who was raised in Incline Village and played for the Highlanders in the mid 1990s. "I've shot a lot of jumpers in the Incline High gym."
In his return, Kelly brings with him an impressive resume.
After playing at Incline before moving to Reno his junior year, where he graduated from Reno High in 1996, he played college ball at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. He later held assistant coaching gigs at Cal State Fullerton and Pepperdine University, and was the head varsity boys coach at national powerhouse Servite High School in Anaheim for five years. He also coached at North Tahoe for two seasons in the early 2000s. He and his family moved to Incline on Sept. 1.
"I was raised in Incline, so I'm home, which is huge for me because the goal has always been to get back here," Kelly said, adding that his brother Sean, who helped lead the Highlanders to a state title in 1990, was arguably the best player in Incline's storied basketball history.
Kelly inherits an Incline team that lost seven seniors to graduation, including league MVP Jordan Wright and a number of All-League and All-State selections. Filling their shoes is a strong group of sophomores - six total - plus two seniors and three juniors.
"We're young," Kelly said. "The nucleus of the team is really a bunch of sophomores, so you can tell we don't have a lot of kids who have a lot of varsity basketball experience. But they are a phenomenal group. They play extremely hard. And the great thing about being young is they're just going to continue to get better and better."
The young Highlanders, who are off to a 1-1 start, have already given their new coach reason to believe in their ability, despite their relative lack of size and varsity experience. For starters, they've already bought into the team concept, Kelly said, which he stressed is crucial to success.
"Our style of play is really all about our team. We run the dribble-drive offense, which is totally a team game," he said, explaining that the offense emphasizes attacking the rim and creating a fast tempo. "So really our contributors are going to be everybody. The goal is to have eight guys score 10 points. I'm looking for everyone to step up and play very unselfish basketball, and believe in our team more than themselves. There's really not one name that should stand out."
So far so good, Kelly said, as the Highlanders had a different leading scorer in both games. While the coach said he has yet to lock down a starting five, sophomore Tommy Thompson has started at point guard in the early going, while fellow sophomore guards Jack Clouthier and Jack Bessette boast similar skill sets - sharp shooting and deft ball handling.
Kelly expects big things in the post from sophomore forward Ben Snyder, whom he described as the Highlanders' "workhorse," with little flash but strong determination, good size - at 6-2, 210 pounds - and a nose for rebounds. Incline also has some size in 6-3 sophomore Matt Hanna and 6-2 junior Christian Biscotti, both of whom can score from inside or out.
Seniors Drew Bessette and Rob Rubsamen serve as co-team captains, while junior Jared Skowronski and sophomore Nicky Witty round out the roster. The Highlanders are hoping to add an additional player, a junior point guard and returning starter, but he must first become academically eligible.
"I think the strength of our team is our ability to shoot the basketball," Kelly said. "With Jack Clouthier and Jack Bessette, and Matt Hanna, Tommy Thompson, Christian Biscotti, I think we have a roster full of guys who are really confident in their ability to knock down shots. If we play as hard as we did (Tuesday) night, I'm excited. How hard we play is my measuring stick right now."
Regardless of their youth, Kelly said the Highlanders can't help but feel a sense of pride and tradition when they take the floor - himself included. It motivates them to succeed, with hopes of adding a fifth state championship to the school's trophy case (they won state in 1974, 1975, 1990 and 2010).
"Yeah, that's huge to us. The tradition goes so far back, and I was part of that tradition, so it's neat to see it continue," Kelly said. "I think it's impossible for our guys not to believe in the tradition of Incline basketball. And it's important to me too."