Jeff Reinland is nervous.
Walla Walla Community College’s veteran men’s head basketball coach likes the quality and the quantity of players he has assembled for the 2015-16 season, which begins Friday night when the Warriors entertain a Gonzaga club team in the Dietrich Dome. The opening tip is slated for 7:30 p.m.
He believes he has a group that shoots the 3-pointer better than last year’s squad, which was streaky at times but still managed to knock down 20 treys on numerous occasions. And he has brought in a plethora of talented interior post players the likes of which he hasn’t had in years.
Still, Reinland is nervous.
“We’ve got guys who can shoot the 3, and we are going to be much more consistent inside this year,” the coach said. “We couldn’t score inside at all last year, but now we have guys we can go to inside.
“At least we did have until everybody started getting hurt. Now I am starting to get nervous because all these injuries change things.”
As the season opener approaches, four of Reinland’s newcomers — three of them post players — are questionable because of a variety of physical ailments.
“To be honest, I am kind of in shock with so many guys injured,” Reinland said. “This is the second year in a row where we have been bitten by injuries.
“My expectations coming into the season were pretty high. We have some good pieces, the talent is there. And I still have high expectations, but with all of these injuries I am humbled a little bit.”
Not to mention the rebuilding task Reinland faced when the Warriors concluded a 13-16 season, finished sixth in the NWAC East Region and missed the postseason tournament for a second straight year.
The biggest shoes Reinland needs to fill are those of two-year starting point guard Satchel Schetzel, who led the Warriors in scoring (25.1) and assists (5.96) and earned first-team all-East honors. The Warriors also lost their top two rebounders, Matt Grooms and Nate Richards, to graduation as well as key reserve Garrett Sawyer.
However, Reinland was buoyed by the fact that his top two 3-point shooters, Gabe Porter and Payton Radliff, were freshmen. But Porter dropped out of school and is no longer in the program and Radliff will miss the team’s first eight games because he is academically ineligible.
“Gabe will probably come back next year, and I am excited to have him because he’s a good player,” Reinland said of Porter. “He just needs to get back on track.
“Once we get Rad back, that will help us,” the coach said of Radliff. “He has looked really good in practice, but we won’t have him for the first eight games.”
WWCC’s other returning players are 6-2 point guard Mitch Mueller and 6-8 forward Riley Kretschmer. Devan Kohn is a 6-3 sophomore post out of Las Vegas who redshirted last season and figures to play at key role for WWCC this season. Jared Downey, a 5-10 guard from Boise, also redshirted last season after playing for WWCC two years ago.
“Devan’s a transfer from Shoreline who practiced against us all last year and was really good, very tenacious,” Reinland said of Kohn. “He’s not very big, but he’s in the mix to start for us at the post position.
“He’s kind of a funny player because he has all the perimeter skills but is not a great perimeter shooter. “But he is very explosive and hard to guard around the basket.”
Mueller figures to start at the point position until Radliff returns and shoots well enough to play shooting guard, Reinland said. Kretschmer lacks physicality and played sparingly last season, but he could see significant minutes depending upon injuries to other players. Reinland describes Downey as a “3-point bomber” who sank eight 3-pointers in a game at Spokane as a freshman and is battling for playing time.
In a perfect world, Radliff would be the Warriors’ starting point guard Friday night surrounded by four freshmen. Marquise Henderson (6-4, Auburn, Wash.) would be the shooting guard, Dalton Thompson (6-4, Post Falls, Idaho) would play the wing, Roman McKnight (6-8, Orem, Utah) would be at the high-post position and Krohn at the low post. And Mueller could adequately replace any of the three guards.
But it is not a perfect word. Radliff is ineligible and Henderson and McKnight are two of the Warriors who are battling injuries heading into the season.
“Marquise has had a pulled hamstring, a couple of sprained ankles and most recently a pretty badly infected toe,” Reinland said of Henderson, whom he regards as his most talented backcourt player. “He’s a good shooter, a good defender and a good rebounder, and we will be a lot better if we can get him back.
“But he sat out four practices last week and didn’t even make our trip to Spokane for a scrimmage, so I am real nervous about it.”
Reinland views McKnight as his most talented big, but he has been slowed by a deep thigh bruise.
“He’s very long, he jumps well and can run the floor,” Reinland said of McKnight. “And he can shoot the 3. I think there’s a chance we could get him back by Friday.”
Thompson scored 22 points and snagged 19 rebounds in an inter-squad scrimmage earlier this fall and is one of WWCC’s most versatile players.
“He plays a lot taller than 6-4,” Reinland said of Thompson. “He is a really good rebounder who can score from the outside and drive the ball as well. We’re kind of looking for him to pick up the slack until we get Gabe back.”
The Warriors’ other two walking wounded are Mason Schutt (6-6 center, Prosser, Wash.) and KJ Ibach-Sevigny (6-7 forward, West Valley-Yakima). Schutt, who is a transfer from Pacific Lutheran University where he played football, is shelved with a knee issue and an injured biceps, and Ibach-Sevigny has missed the last two weeks with a wrist injury.
“The biceps I don’t think will keep him out, but I am concerned about the knee,” Reinland said of Schutt. “We need to figure out what is causing that because he could easily be a starter for us or play a lot of big minutes.
“KJ is a pretty good shooter and a very good rebounder and defender,” the coach said of Ibach-Sevigny. “He can also score down low and I am hoping he is not out for the year, but I am concerned.”
Rounding out WWCC’s roster are Darrian Caffaro-Briggs (5-11 guard, Orem, Utah), Beau Tillman (6-7 center, Genesee, Idaho), Zack Funk (6-4 forward/post, Hansen, Idaho) and Trevor Sperry (6-4 post, Clarkston).
According to Reinland, Caffaro-Briggs brings some quickness and depth to the point guard position; Tillman adds depth to the post position while adapting to the community college level after playing at a small high school; Funk’s physical play and hustle could lead to minutes as a solid contributor; and Sperry is another hustler who will get better and better as his career goes on.
The coach also has a number of players who will most likely be redshirted this season, among them 6-1 point guard Dylan Steele out of Wa-Hi.
“He came in really late and I already had the team put together,” Reinland said. “He said, ‘I really want to play, redshirt, whatever,’ and I really wanted to give him a shot. It will all depend on how some of these other guys come back from injuries. We could bring him out or otherwise redshirt him.”
Article by Jim Buchan of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin