PHILOMATH — Derek Nash catches the basketball, releases a 3-pointer and chases the ball as it “thwits” through the net. He whips a pass out to Ben DeSaulnier, who follows the same routine, passing to Nash.
Over and over again the two run through the drill, keeping their shooting form, maintaining the rhythm.
A half-hour earlier they were dominating a passing drill reminiscent of monkey in the middle. Their anticipation and quickness meant they were never in the center for more than one attempted pass.
Their combined skills — and natural leadership — in the backcourt are being counted upon to launch another strong season for the Philomath boys basketball team.
“Both of those guys are all-state type players,” coach Blake Ecker said. “Definitely our strengths will be those two guys. The supporting cast is going to be good enough to compete.
“And really, how many do you need to shoot it? We have two guys that will be the majority of our scoring, but we have other guys who will be complimentary in scoring as well.”
Both are varsity veterans. Nash, a 6-foot senior point guard is entering his fourth season. DeSaulnier, a 6-3 junior shooting guard, is entering his third and second as a full-time starter.
The Warriors lost five players to graduation — including 6-5 posts John Hanson and Jacob Erickson — and have five returners on the roster.
“We definitely lost some big guys in John Hanson and Jacob Erickson and those other senior guys, but this season we’re really focused on moving the ball up and down the floor at a fast pace,” DeSaulnier said. “We have some smaller guys, but we’re really quick.”
Senior Ryan Nelson and juniors Joe Noble and Cole Chambers saw action with the varsity last season, when PHS went 17-8. Six of their losses were to the teams that finished first, second, third and fourth at the state tournament.
The Warriors avenged a seventh loss in the playoffs, blowing out Cottage Grove on its home floor, before missing Gill with a loss at Phoenix, which finished second.
There isn’t as much size on this year’s team, but size isn’t everything in basketball.
“It’s a very different team from last year, we don’t have the posts, but we’ll get up and down the court,” Nash said.
“We’re not super tall, that’s for sure,” Ecker said. “We’ve had that luxury in the past, but I feel that the guys that are playing our bigs are more athletic.”
Starting with the 6-3 Nelson.
“He puts his hands up, he’s about 6-6, 6-7, just with the length of him,” Ecker said. “We call him the plastic man for a reason.”
Junior Chris Houck, another 6-3 player, will also be counted on in the post, while Chambers and Noble are expected to do a great many things.
Playing well on defense will be important for the Warriors. Being in the right place to disrupt passing lanes, grab rebounds and create transition chances will go a long way in making up for their lack of height.
“Defensively, that’s going to be a big key for us,” DeSaulnier said.
There’s a big intangible in the Warriors’ favor, too.
Their football team had a strong season, reaching the 4A quarterfinals. Four key members are also on the basketball team: Nash, DeSaulnier, Chambers and Noble.
“We have to carry our attitude from football to basketball,” Nash said. “We have quite a few guys from football on the team and we have to get after it.”
Ecker likes that attitude and the natural progression from one sport to the next.
“They have success in their previous sport, it just carries over,” Ecker said. “Success breeds success, I’m happy as heck they had a great season.”
The Warriors, 2-0 on the hardwood, host Roosevelt tonight to start a three-game homestand that includes Seaside on Friday and Tillamook on Tuesday.