Vikings making progress on the court; future in players’ hands |

Vikings making progress on the court; future in players’ hands

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Win or lose Tuesday night, the South Tahoe High boys’ basketball program is showing signs of returning to the winning tradition established by Tom Orlich for 25 years.

Losing to Hug on Tuesday would have sealed the Vikings’ third successive losing season under former NCAA Division I coach Derek Allister. A victory over the Hawks allows the Vikings to send “Slim” into his motel room to pack his bag and gives them a better chance of making the playoffs than a vacationer has of winning their first hand of blackjack downtown.

South Tahoe doesn’t need the zone tournament berth to realize the program has made progress. With Pat Harnett’s junior varsity squad pulling out knee-knocker after knocker en route to a 9-4 season, the cupboard is no longer bare on Viking Way. Plus, the community now has a feeder program that other communities don’t have. Children are learning the fundamentals in the first and second grade instead of from their middle school coaches.

However, the Vikings still must decide if they are satisfied with making the playoffs or regaining their place as kings of Northern Nevada basketball.

They are still being outworked in the off-season, even though the team made their share of summer tournaments in 2002.

Teams like Carson and Galena that are approaching basketball as a 11-month season instead of five- or six-month campaign are just a little bit better than the Vikings going into the season’s stretch run.

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Tom Maurer brought a collegiate philosophy to the Grizzlies 12 years ago and it’s not puzzling that Galena has appeared in five out of the past six zone championship games.

Maurer’s obsession with basketball has even touched his family — namely his two sons. His 5-year-old goes by the name of Ty Basketball Jones, while his 7-year-old answers Trey Utah Moe.

“The social security office called me on (my 5-year-old’s name), and I told them, ‘I’m from Indiana, man,'” Maurer said. “Basketball is my love and I’m very fortunate that I have a wife (Dianne) that understands that.”

Allister’s style allows his players to breathe more than basketball — if that is what they desire. The former Stephen F. Austin University coach’s life no longer revolves around basketball for 12 months out of the year at a time when the sport has become just that at the high school level.

He has taught his players that there is more to high school sports than winning, preparing them for life outside basketball with critical lessons on discipline, accountability and adhering team rules.

Not many coaches would have sat two star players in a season-opening game, but that’s exactly what Allister did to Curtis Johnson and Niko Klensak on opening night in Yerington.

Allister is producing men, not just basketball players.

But it doesn’t take a tax preparer to figure out why Maurer’s Grizzlies compete for the zone title year after year. And don’t let the greeting on Maurer’s answering machine fool you — “I’m either at the Salvation Army, at church or out recruiting” — the Grizzlies have earned their four zone titles with hard work.

After Maurer returns from the NCAA Final Four in April, he holds workouts for players who aren’t participating in spring sports. By Memorial Day, Maurer cranks up his club team, supplementing tournament play by having his players serve as coaches during a three-week basketball camp in June.

“I learned this from coach (Bobby) Knight in Indiana,” Maurer said. “They learn that kids won’t listen to them and work hard and being a coach that is the same thing that I’m trying to get out of them.”

When they aren’t playing summer tournaments in Salt Lake City or in the Bay Area, they take a summer basketball course offered by the Washoe County School District 4 hours a day for a month. Maurer, of course, is the instructor.

“The players hate it, but it pays off,” Maurer said. “It’s all fundamentals. We don’t talk about offensive and defense, it’s mainly ballhandling and passing.”

In the fall, Maurer moves the workouts outside where the winds routinely whip up to 30 mph in the foothills of the Sierra. Again, Maurer has his players work on individual skills.

By the time basketball season arrives, Maurer has his players watch film and go over scouting reports for an hour and practice for two hours.

The two men with two totally different coaching philosophies met earlier in the season, with Maurer squeaking out his second victory in 12 years at the lake.

However, Maurer was leery of a possible rematch if the Vikings would have bucked the odds and made the zone tournament.

“I fear him if he gets in because of his two big kids,” Maurer said. “We were lucky to get them early when they hadn’t jelled yet.”

Going into the final week of the season, Allister was issuing the same warning.

“If we can make the playoffs, we can be a very dangerous team,” he said.

— Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or