Orin Porter is eligible. Matt Hanna is healthy. And their supporting cast is anything but shabby.
Safely put: The Highlanders have all the makings of a championship-caliber basketball team.
“We’re pretty good right now,” said second-year Incline coach Tim Kelly, whose boys are off to a 2-0 start after quality wins over Division I-A South Tahoe and Division I Hug. “We have a bunch of juniors and seniors, and when Orin Porter is eligible to play basketball, we’re a really tough team to beat — in any division.”
Incline proved as much this past weekend, as Porter dropped 23 and 27 points, respectively, to help lead his team to victories over the larger schools. Hanna scored 26 between the two games.
The Highlanders will find out just how good they are this week in the Wild West Shootout, which features powerhouse programs from California and Nevada. Incline opens against Servite of Anaheim and follows with games against Division I Galena and Douglas.
Whether facing a large school or small, however, Kelly said the Highlanders intend to play the same brand of basketball. They want to push the ball up the court, quickly and relentlessly, with 100 percent hustle from everyone on the floor.
“We play very quick and very loose. There’s a lot of freedom,” Kelly said, adding that his junior point guard, Alex Zissis, has the perfect aggressive mentality to execute the fast-paced style of play. “Our tempo is really fun. With how Zissis pushes the basketball forward, we run a lot. We always want to run.”
Zissis has plenty of capable options on the break. Starters include Porter and Hanna, both 6 foot 3 and adept at all facets of the game — shooting, slashing, rebounding, defense — as well as junior big man Ben Snyder, at 6-4, and senior wing Christian Biscotti, who’s 6-3. Kelly said Porter plays the wing along with Biscotti, while Hanna is the trailer.
“We’re pretty big,” Kelly said, adding that Zissis is a solid 5-10.
Incline’s bench is nearly as strong, with solid returners in junior guards Tommy Thompson, Jack Bessette and Jack Clouthier, who suffered a broken foot during football season but could return as soon as Dec. 20, Kelly said. Seniors Dakota Bursell and Jason Guth and juniors Dylan Comstock and Nicky Witty round out the deep roster.
Clouthier, Thompson and Bessette all were major contributors last season, particularly after Hanna went down early in the year with an injury and Porter became academically ineligible. Biscotti also tore his ACL in the final game of the regular season, before the Highlanders fell to West Wendover in the opening round of the regional postseason tournament.
“We’re looking good with the addition of Alex Zissis, and with Orin eligible and Matt healthy, and Christian healthy and Ben healthy, and Jack Bessette coming off the bench, and Dylan Comstock being older — and we haven’t even gotten Jack Clouthier back yet,” Kelly said.
With such a talented group from top to bottom, Incline hopes to contend for its fifth state championship title, and first since 2010. The Highlanders finished runner-up in 2011 and played into the state semifinal in 2012.
Of course, the competitive Division III has a large handful of legitimate contenders shooting for the same goal. The Highlanders will get a feel for their DIII competition soon, as they face White Pine in the Whittell tournament next week and open league play against Pershing County and Battle Mountain on Dec. 20 and 21.
“I really like the attitude of our team,” Kelly said. “I want them to have the freedom to believe that they’re great, because I think they have a chance to be a very good basketball team.”