Incline boys feel they have right mix to be elite
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The Highlanders are bubbling with excitement to get the basketball season underway.
They feel this is their year to do something special. The 16-player roster includes 10 seniors who have played together for several years.
“It’s time for us to come together,” said senior 6-foot, co-captain Ian Smith, a varsity starter for three years. “I’m excited to see us in action.”
The senior experience combined with youthful star talent has Incline thinking big in 2018-19.
“People are always going to say TK has big expectations and it’s true, its always to be one of the best in Nevada,” said Highlanders head coach Tim Kelly (TK). “Our records always show that in who we play. Expectations are always high and nothing is changing that ever. We’ve prepared to play on March 1 or 2 (in the state championship tournament) and that’s how we prepare every day. We expect to be a very good basketball team. We’re excited. We’ve been together for a long time. It’s a group that not only do I know, but love and I can humbly say they love me and that’s pretty special.”
The Highlanders reached postseason last year as the No. 5 seed and were promptly eliminated by Yerington in the first round. They suffered through a tough injury to Will Stranzl, their senior star, and never really got in a winning groove, although they did beat rival North Tahoe twice which surely soothes the pain of other losses.
Smith is the leading returning scorer from that team at 11.1 points per game and is one of the Highlanders biggest threats from beyond the arc.
“We have a really strong group of guys, the strongest we’ve had in a few years I think,” Smith said. “We all work hard together and we all want to in. We’re all determined to do the best we can.”
Senior Liam Nolan-Bowers is team’s other co-captain and shares the excitement to get the season started and doesn’t want to waste any time in his final year.
“I’m excited to get on the court and play,” said Nolan-Bowers, who averaged about five points and five rebounds per game as a junior. “Almost everybody on our team is seniors except a few of us. And the fact that this is our last year playing as a group will put the pressure on us to perform.”
Senior Matthew Cornell was the team’s leading rebounder last year at over six per game and he also chipped in five points per contest.
Senior teammate Johnny Redfern scored about five points and added a couple of assists and steals per game.
“Those four guys, Ian, Liam, Johnny and Matthew, have been on the same team since fifth grade, along with junior Tyler Knight,” Kelly said.
Kelly is looking forward to seeing all his kids in action.
“I’m really excited about, Parker (Fontecchio), he has been working hard for a long time,” Kelly said. “Paul Larson, Jacob (Leoncio), you go down the list, you name every senior (Cooper Lyons, Jackson Littleton, who averaged about nine points a game last year, Bennett Welco), they’re all really excited for the opportunity to play a role this year.”
The senior-laden team also has juniors Brayden Hock and Emerson Fleming, sophomore Brad Rye and freshmen TT Valosek and Brody Thralls.
With so many seniors, the youngsters must be good.
Valosek, a 6-3 guard/wing, already looks like he’s ready to be a star in Nevada. He kid can already throw down dunks and won’t be a secret for long.
“The one thing people will find out real quick is that our freshmen are not really freshmen,” Kelly said. “The two have played for me since they were young and they’ve been getting ready for the varsity level. TT, he’s just a kid who’s ready to play hoops at a very high level.”
The Highlanders tipped off their season Tuesday with a 65-48 win at Sierra Lutheran and will open Northern League play in mid-December.
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“Let Them Play,” rallies are taking place across California with a mission to bring back high school and youth sports.