Whittell boys b-ball looks to continue the culture, defend state championship in 2016-17 season
The most successful stretch in the history of the Whittell basketball program has created a culture on the hardwood at the small South Shore school. That foundation the Warriors have created in three seasons under head coach Phil Bryant will be put to the test during the 2016-17 season.
Whittell enters the campaign as the defending state champion after winning its second Div. IV title in three years to finish off last season. The Warriors have a combined record of 77-10 during that run, winning 89 percent of their games since Bryant took over the program.
“The kids have bought into basketball,” Bryant said. “We’ve been really fortunate to get the success that we’ve had through their hard work.”
For the Warriors to continue that unprecedented success, they’ll have to do so without a trio of three-year starters that combined to score 70 percent of the team’s points as seniors last season. That group has moved on, but Whittell is counting on the culture they helped create remaining in place.
“I love the work ethic of the kids that we have in the program,” Bryant said. “They’re going to go 100 miles per hour, they’ll never quit, they’ll play hard — and that gives you a chance.”
Whittell entered its season opener against Silver Stage (Silver Springs, Nev.) on Tuesday, Nov. 29, with four returning players solidifying starting spots. That quartet includes senior Dismas Womack along with juniors Corey Huber, Caleb Moretti and Troy Libert — all of whom are stepping into larger roles this season.
“We have to build our team in a little bit different way this year than we have in the past,” Bryant said. “We’re deeper now than we’ve ever been without much drop-off, but we’re not sure where we’re dropping off from. We’re not sure what level we are at.”
Senior Sam Berry rounds out the group of varsity returners from last season. The rest of the Warriors’ roster consists of players making the jump from junior varsity — senior Josh Burch, juniors Nic Buchholz, Genaro Mena, Connor Huber and Dylan Kixmiller along with sophomores Trent Dingman and Isaiah Womack.
“I like our team,” Bryant said. “If we can learn to play together and take advantage of the skill sets we have, we’ll be there at the end.”
Corey Huber has been the team’s vocal leader early on, and is expected to take over the point guard position vacated by two-time reigning league Player of the Year Palmer Chaplin. Moretti leads Whittell by example with his effort, Womack is a talented slasher that can create his own shot on a regular basis, and the 6-foot-5-inch Libert brings size and shot-blocking ability with a solid mid-range game from the inside.
“It won’t be a single guy like we’ve had in the past, but we have to make it up in different ways,” Bryant said. “We’ve got a variety of things that can happen, but we’re not sure where all the points are going to come from.”
Defensively, Whittell still plans to employ a full-court press as it has during the last three seasons. The Warriors might even ramp up the pressure due to greater depth.
“It’s what we do here,” Bryant said of the press. “I’m not a coach that likes to give the other team 70 percent of the court where they don’t have to do anything — if we can make them play in that space, we may get a few buckets out of it.”
When the Warriors have the ball, they will look to score as quickly as possible. In the half court, Bryant said the team will “play more basketball” this season in lieu of a more patterned, regimented offense.
Whittell opens the season with 10 games in 15 days, all against higher-division opponents. By the time the Warriors open 1A West League play at Smith Valley on Dec. 16, they expect the tough nonleague schedule to prepare them for league play and the postseason — even if wins aren’t part of the equation.
“We want to win, but we also want to get better — and if these guys can handle that, we’ll be fine,” Bryant said. “We have to get ourselves more ready for those big games. It’s all about the playoffs and what we can do at the end.”
In the end, the Warriors believe they will have the chance to defend their state championship and play for a second title in three years. Along the way, Whittell will rely on new difference makers to continue the success that has become synonymous with its basketball program in recent seasons.