Whittell finally stepping out of South Tahoe’s basketball shadow
After watching the Whittell High boys basketball team toil in the shadows of STHS’s national-caliber program for the past decade, it was refreshing to see the Warriors assume a new identity Saturday in Hawthorne – champion.
But how did the Warriors go from a sub-.500 team before the postseason to the one that danced off the floor with the school’s first zone tournament championship in 30 years?
“We’re all just jelling together as a team more,” said Whittell High senior Luke Forvilly, who had never played a playoff basketball game before last Friday’s Northern Nevada 2A Division semifinal. “We know each other more. We know Bryan (Sigel) and Nick (Summers) are our main shooters. We know our roles.”
It’s a tough concept to accept and embrace because every player wants to lead the team in scoring. To avoid selfishness, coach Steve Maltase keeps his players moving on offense, so anyone can score an easy two points.
When sophomore floor leader Nestor Flores calls for his teammates to run “motion,” the beauty of Whittell’s offense becomes transparent. Through constant motion, the Warriors are able to find an open man for a layup or jumper.
You can watch some prep teams for 32 minutes and you won’t see one screen or pick and roll. Or others, where players create all their shots off the dribble. The Warriors play as a team in a game that often encourages one-one-one play.
Whittell passes and passes and passes. They screen. They look for backdoor cutters. They don’t always box out for rebounds, but when your tallest starter is only 6-foot-2 its a weakness you have to live with. When a Warrior finally pulls the trigger, you know the player won’t be yanked from the lineup if the shot misses the mark. Most of the time, it’s a good shot. Whether Nick Summers, Bryan Sigel, Luke Forvilly, Nestor Flores or Joel Warnick is shooting is of no consequence. They realize that the team that gets the highest-percentage shots has the best chance of winning. The Warriors made that adjustment after falling behind Lovelock by nine points at halftime Friday.
“We just said we need to be more patient,” Sigel said. “We sat there and looked at each other and said, ‘This is our game now because we are always down and we always come back.’ We didn’t have any fear that we were out of it.”
Whittell sixth-year coach Steve Maltase chuckled when asked what his team improved upon to win zone. The Warriors’ defense has been rock solid most of the season, but they have struggled on offense periodically.
“We improved defensively a little bit and offensively we’ve been pounding every day, going over offenses and executing,” Maltase said. “You could tell (on Saturday against Tonopah) when a few times we ran a lot of time off the clock.”
The difference wasn’t tournament MVP Sigel, freshman sensation Summers or “The Interceptor” Flores. The difference was PU: Patience and unselfishness.
Lovelock coach Lance Condie feared Whittell more than any other team going into last Friday’s division tournament in Hawthorne. Condie didn’t want to play the Warriors because he understood that to beat them you must stop five players, not one or two.
“What concerns me about Whittell is that they’re a good team,” he said. “What they’ve done up there is a good job of teaching their kids roles to play.”
If I were coaching Tonopah, The Meadows or West Wendover, I wouldn’t want to play the Warriors right now. They know their roles too well and their players don’t care how many points they score. They have learned that the “W” is much more satisfying.
“I think we’re going to surprise ourselves,” said Forvilly of Whittell’s state chances.
Added Sigel, “We’re like the most versatile team out here. It’s a great bunch of guys who have a lot of heart.”
State also gives Sigel and the rest of the unselfish Warriors a chance to fulfill every Nevada prep basketball player’s dream – to play in Lawlor Events Center.
“I’ve seen Lawlor before. I went down for the 4A tournament last year. It’s gonna be awesome. It’s an awesome, awesome gym,” he said.
To the victor go the spoils.
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