From the sidelines: Along for the ride with the Warriors
When I was invited to join the Whittell boys basketball team on its jouney to Las Vegas for the Div. IV state basketball tournament last week, I jumped at the chance. Spending nearly three days embedded with the Warriors basketball and cheer teams gave me an inside look at all that goes into a team trip — and was a lot of fun.
Here’s the (unofficial) itinerary for my 60-plus hours with the Warriors:
Thursday, Feb. 26
7 a.m. — The journey begins
The charter bus takes off from the home of the Warriors, led by our fearless driver Robert. I have two seats to myself, seated behind head coach Phil Bryant and one row in front of Whittell’s ever-talkative and highly entertaining cheer team — the basketball team is holding down the back of the bus.
10 a.m. — A not-so-quick stop in Hawthorne
The first stop of the trip comes at a rest stop in Hawthorne located in a park with rock landscaping. With only two bathrooms on each side, this stop takes a little longer than expected.
1 p.m. — It’s either a burger or a sandwich
Just outside of Tonopah, the bus stops for the only meal of the trip south. A joint Subway/Burger King offered limited options — I went with a cold cut combo. Robert opted to take Highway 95 to Las Vegas, and Whittell wasn’t alone on that route — teams from Lowry and Pershing County were also stopped at the only restaurant for miles.
4 p.m. — Arrival at Circus Circus
The bus arrives at the Las Vegas strip nine hours after departing from Zephyr Cove, and the last leg is highlighted by the Twitter dress debate — only a handful saw black and blue, and nobody was more upset about it than guard Colin Buchholz. Once in the hotel, it didn’t take backup guard Corey Huber long to score a dozen — less than half an hour after checking in he had a box of Krispy Kreme donuts under his arm.
8 p.m. — A look at Nevada’s best
The Warriors step inside Orleans Arena for the first time to see Bishop Gorman face Galena in a Div. I boys semifinal. The top team in the state didn’t disappoint — the Gaels had a 19-0 lead after the first quarter and rolled to victory led by a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans. Gorman’s Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter were as good as advertised — Zimmerman’s near-miss on a windmill dunk attempt was the highlight of the night.
Friday, Feb. 27
9:03 a.m. — Almost missed the bus
I was told the night before that the bus for morning shootaround was leaving at 9 a.m. After rushing to grab a quick breakfast, I was in the parking lot three minutes after the scheduled departure time — and saw the bus coming toward me. Fortunately, it stopped to let me on — a handful of junior varsity players that overslept weren’t so lucky.
9:30 a.m. — Preparation with a side of fun
Whittell’s shootaround at Clark High has players put up a variety of shots, review half-court and inbounds plays — then concludes with some fun. In knockout, I survived only one round thanks to stellar shooting from forward Bryce Bronken — Palmer Chaplin went on to win the game with a performance that featured as many misses as makes.
The last item of the shootaround was called “Game Winners” and featured players attempting shots from half court. The Warriors were excited for this drill and I quickly found out why — after guard Osvaldo Reyes-Lucero hit his shot, he was mobbed by coaches and teammates as if Whittell just won the state championship. Chaplin also made his shot, and close misses included my shot (I thought it was going in) and coach Bryant’s reverse overhead heave.
12:45 p.m. — Return trip to Orleans Arena
The basketball and cheer teams board the bus to Orleans Arena four hours before tipoff so the Warriors could watch the other Div. IV semifinal between league rival Virginia City and South second seed Pahranagat Valley. Scoring was at a premium for both the Muckers and Panthers — Pahranagat led 9-7 at halftime and won 26-23 after Virginia City’s Clint Hess missed a potential game-tying three at the buzzer.
2 p.m. — Fireworks after the buzzer
Following the low-scoring slugfest between Virginia City and Pahranagat Valley, the real fireworks begin. A small skirmish between players at midcourt precedes a bigger fight between parents in the stands — it was momentary chaos that I was later told derived from bad blood during football season.
4:15 p.m. — Finally tipoff
The referee tosses the ball in the air between Whittell’s Quinn Kixmiller and Spring Mountain’s Keitaro Horn, and the Warriors’ long-awaited state semifinal is underway. It’s evident early on that the Golden Eagles are one of the most talented teams “Whitell” has faced all season — that’s how arena scoreboard identified the Warriors.
5 p.m. — Anyone’s game at halftime
Whittell trails 29-26 after an even first half, keeping pace with Kixmiller’s strong play inside. As the third quarter begins, however, Spring Mountain starts to grab control of the game.
5:45 p.m. — Game over, season comes to an end
The Golden Eagles build a 14-point lead in the third quarter and hold off a Whittell rally in the fourth to advance to the championship game. The Warriors leave the court with tears and hugs — and emerge from the locker room about 20 minutes later to cheering from family and friends.
7 p.m. — Already looking ahead
At dinner with coach Bryant, wife Jannette and son Matt, the semifinal loss is discussed at length before looking ahead at the 2015-16 season. Initial preparation and strategy is laid out for next year’s Warriors team as they aim to return to the top of the state.
Saturday, Feb. 28
10 a.m. — Time to go home
A slightly somber mood hangs over the charter bus as it boards and says goodbye to the bright lights of Las Vegas. Whittell was planning to prepare for the state championship game that afternoon, but instead was miles away from the Orleans Arena when it tipped off.
1 p.m. — Lunch in a familiar spot
Stopping for lunch in Tonopah again means one of two options — this time I went with almost $10 of Burger King. North teams that stopped for lunch included Incline, Pyramid Lake and Virginia City — all hoping to still be playing instead of heading back home.
2 p.m. — What is that stuff falling from the sky?
Rain and snow greets the bus shortly after leaving Tonopah, and doesn’t let up the rest of the way. It took leaving Lake Tahoe to see snow for the first time in weeks.
8 p.m. — Back to where it began
Roughly two-and-a-half days after leaving for Las Vegas, the basketball and cheer teams return to Zephyr Cove. Snow-covered cars meet the team in the Whittell parking lot as the Warriors display one last measure of teamwork — helping scrape the snow off each other’s cars.
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