Walla Walla Community College
Men's Basketball

CC men continue to search for points in paint

Walla Walla has always been feared for its 3-point shooting prowess during Jeff Reinland’s long tenure as the men’s head basketball coach at WWCC.

But the Warriors aren’t exclusively long-range bombers, insisted Reinland, who in his 25th season at the helm has his team off to an 11-3 start and a 1-0 Northwest Athletic Conference East Region record after Wednesday night’s 85-70 whipping of Spokane in the Dietrich Dome.

“We’ve always wanted an inside-outside attack,” the coach said, inferring that his teams’ first option is seeking points in the paint before kicking the ball outside to a 3-point shooter.

“We’ve had some great post players here over the years,” Reinland added. “Guys in the five-spot who have averaged 20 points a game and shot 50-to-60 percent from the field.”

First and foremost on Reinland’s list of outstanding post players are Jeremy Eaton (1995-97) and Curtis Carlson (2005-07). Both were Eastern Region Most Valuable Players, with Eaton moving on to play at Gonzaga University and Carlson at Point Loma University in San Diego.

Reinland ticked off a host of other post players who earned all-region honors, including the late Dorian Boose (1993-95), who later played football as a defensive end at the Washington State University and for the NFL New York Jets, and Rob Pankowski (2002-04), who went on to play basketball at Boise State. Others on that list are Brian Sweaney (1999-01), Rodney Harrington (1999-01), Trent Berglund (2000-02), Ray Stout (2007-09), Emery Henning (2008-10), Aaron Corsi (2009-11), Dallen Bills (2010-12) and Nate Richards (2013-15).

“Most of my good teams have had that inside-outside ability,” Reinland said. “Ironically, the team that won the NWAC last year did not have that.”

Last year’s Warriors, who presented Reinland with his first NWAC championship and the first at WWCC since the school won back-to-back titles in 1978-79, were led by a pair of shooting guards, Gabe Porter and Caulin Bakalarski, who each averaged 20-plus points a game.

Which is why Reinland’s not overly concerned that his current team is cut from somewhat the same cloth as last year’s championship team.

Sophomore shooting guard Landon Radliff, last year’s tournament most valuable player, went into Wednesday’s East Region opener with a 20.8 scoring average and destroyed the Sasquatch with a 37-point outing. Fellow guards Damon Thacker (15.8), Marcos McKone (14.4) and Brandon Porter (13.2) are also averaging in double figures.

Kendall Watson, a 6-foot-4 forward, averages 8.5 points a game. But starting post Gary Engstrom has been limited to a 4.2 scoring average and Jake Albright has been adding 6.1 points a game as Engstrom’s backup.

“We’re not getting a lot done offensively inside,” Reinland admitted. “But we are playing really hard in there, playing good defense and rebounding well. We have actually outrebounded some of our opponents this year, which we haven’t done in quite a while.”

Reinland noted that even though he has four sophomores in his starting lineup, Radliff was his only game-tested player going into the season.

“We are basically playing a lot of guys who this is their first exposure to college hoops,” he said. “And I don’t always feel like we are ready for those teams who are really talented and come out and pressure us. We tend to panic a bit when things don’t go our way.”

That wasn’t the case Wednesday night, however. The visiting Sasquatch led by 11 points early in the game, were up 43-42 at the intermission and moved back out to a seven-point lead early in the second half. The Warriors took over after that, held Spokane to 27 second-half points and won the game going away.

What separates this year’s team from the team that won the title is more balanced scoring.

“We have four pretty good scorers who are averaging double figures, and Kendall Watson is close to doubles,” Reinland said. “That’s really good balance.

“Last year we had one or two guys who could give you 24, 25 points. This year we have four, and on any given night it could be any one of them.”

And as expected, the Warriors are firing up more 3-point shots (488) and making more treys (169) than any other team in the NWAC. But that doesn’t mean Reinland isn’t encouraging his players to get the ball in the paint.

“I am happy with our effort in there,” he said. “But we haven’t got to the point where we are producing a lot of offense down there.

“We do drive the ball pretty well, but we don’t always make the best decisions at the end of the drive.”

With one league victory to their credit, the Warriors now turn their attention to next Wednesday’s game at Wenatchee. But Reinland doesn’t want his players looking any further down the road than that game.

“I just start out thinking we want to win every game we play,” the coach said. “But I can’t put any designs on winning the league or making the tournament, just stay focused on what is in front of us one game at a time and deal with the situation as it develops.

“Otherwise,” he said, “you can end up being disappointed pretty early. You don’t want to put your team in that position.

“As it winds down and if we have a chance to win the league, let’s win it. If we have a chance to get into the tournament, let’s get in it. Just finish it off as well as you can.”

Union Bulletin