Turnover is a constant on any two-year collegiate basketball roster.
But the makeover Walla Walla Community College men’s basketball coach Jeff Reinland faces as he begins his 24th season at WWCC Friday night in the Dietrich Dome takes the concept to a whole new level.
Four members of last year’s squad that finished 11-18, including leading scorer Payton Radliff, were sophomores.
And four of last year’s freshmen, including second-leading scorer Roman McKnight, decided not to return for their sophomore seasons.
And that list doesn’t even include sophomore Devan Kohn, who was leading the Warriors in scoring before he quit last year’s team in mid-season, or Marquise Henderson, a gifted 6-foot-4 freshman who played just two games in 2015-16 before going home.
Another freshman, KJ Ibach-Sevigny, missed all of last season with an injury and is no longer in the program.
So Reinland begins anew with just three veteran players, including 6-foot Gabe Porter out of Wa-Hi, who was a starting guard two years ago but sat out last season for personal reasons. The other returnees are 6-9 center Beau Tilleman and 6-5 forward Dalton Thompson.
A fourth sophomore, 6-2 guard Mike Thornton, redshirted last year after transferring to WWCC.
“Lots of new guys,” Reinland said in assessing this year’s roster. “But not a lot of surprises. We knew some kids were going to leave.
“This is just a whole new team, at almost every position. But we do have four solid guys back and three of the four will start.”
Porter, who scored 14 points a game as a freshman in 2014-15, will be expected to take over Radliff’s shooting-guard position. Radliff averaged 17 points a game during his sophomore year in at WWCC uniform.
“We’re glad to have Gabe back in the mix,” Reinland said. “He’s a good player who practiced with us most of last year. The thing about Gabe is that he loves basketball and is very intense. He elevates on his jump shot as well as any player I have ever coached.
“Hopefully he will pick up right where he left off.”
Tilleman and Dalton came off the bench last season but are expected to be in the starting lineup Friday when the Warriors entertain a team from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane.
“Beau has really improved and I am excited about his prospects this year,” Reinland said of Tilleman, who is from Genesee, Idaho. “He is easily the most improved player on our team. He has put in some time working on his game.”
Dalton, who prepped at Post Falls, Idaho, is listed as a forward but will start as a fourth guard in Reinland’s four-guard lineup.
“He can do a lot of things,” the coach said of Dalton. “He’s big enough to guard a big guy and quick enough to guard a guard. And he’s a good shooter who averaged 12 points a game as a freshman.”
Thornton, a product of Las Vegas, is academically ineligible until grades come out in mid-December, Reinland noted.
“But he’s a very talented offensive player,” the coach said. “He is a possible starter once he becomes eligible. He is definitely good enough.”
Caulin Bakalarski and Zach Nerdin are a pair of sophomore transfers who should provide Reinland with some added experience, albeit in different systems. Bakalarski is a 6-3 guard from Port Orchard, Wash., who transferred from Eastern Oregon University in La Grande; Nerdin is a 6-4 forward out of the Dalles, Ore., who first attended Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore.
“Bakalarski is a great offensive player who can play the wing or the point for us,” Reinland said. “He is a very good shooter, a very good driver and a very good passer. He’s just a really good basketball player and we are lucky to get him.”
Nerdin can shoot from the outside as well and has the ability to get to the basket, Reinland said.
“He’s a scrappy, hard-working kid and we are trying to get his year back,” the coach said. “What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in hard work. Right now he’s a backup four or five man, but he’s not very far out.”
The remainder of Reinland’s roster is eight deep, all of them true freshman. It’s a list that includes Payton Radliff’s younger brother Landon, a 6-1 guard out of Richland, and Gabe Porter’s younger brother Noah, a 6-2 guard from Wa-Hi.
“I call Landon Rad-3,” Reinland said, recalling that a third Radliff brother, Dylan, played for the Warriors for two seasons beginning in 2012. “This will be six years of Radliffs, although they never played together.
“Landon’s more like Dylan, a true point guard who can drive it and shoot it. Payton was shorter, really fast and more of an outside shooter.”
Reinland expects Landon Radliff to be his starting point guard.
“He’s very good at distributing the ball, and he can hit the open shots,” Reinland said.
Noah Porter is similar to Gabe in stature, Reinland said, but he has a different game.
“Noah’s not the perimeter shooter that Gabe is,” Reinland said. “But he’s a hustler and a good driver and is in that group trying to get on the floor. And he’s been a pleasure to coach.”
Rounding out the roster are Brandon Porter (no relation to Gabe and Noah), a 6-1 guard out of East Wenatchee; Jesse Howells, a 6-0 guard from Puyallup, Wash.; Trace Tiller, a 6-3 guard from Burns, Ore.; Gary Engstrom, a 6-10 post from Caldwell, Idaho; Robert Seme, a 6-3 forward from Boise; and Roy Walser, a 6-6 post from Reardan, Wash.
All six are currently penciled in as reserves, with Tiller and Engstrom the two most likely to climb the depth chart.
“Tiller is a good athlete who over the next two years has a great chance to be a great player here,” Reinland said. “He’s a freshman who needs to learn, but he definitely has the talent once he gets over the confusion. He’s a reserve right now, but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
“Engstrom has a good shooting touch from the perimeter, but I am forcing him to be an inside player,” the coach said. “Originally we were going to redshirt him, but we are not very thick inside. He has decided he wants to play this year and he will absolutely be a factor for us.”
The Warriors have missed the NWAC Championships in each of the last three years. With North Idaho College joining the East Region this year, it will be that much more difficult to qualify.
“It’s not so much that we’ve been down, it just gets harder and harder to win in the NWAC,” Reinland said. “And we lost so many close games last year, we could have easily reversed our record. But when you lose by one or two points, it still goes down as a loss.”
That said, Reinland is upbeat as approaches the season.
“This team is better than last year because we are hard nosed,” the coach said. “We have two wings in Gabe (Porter) and Bakalarski who can flat-out shoot and are capable of scoring 30 points on any given night. We are solid at the point and Dalton (Thompson) is a great four man who can defend and rebound and shoot. Throw those big kids in there and we are a harder working team than we were last year.
“I don’t know if we are as physically talented,” he added. “But last year we got crushed in our early scrimmages and this year our scrimmages indicate we are right there. This is a good, hard-nosed basketball team that is more along the line of teams I have had in the past.”
Article by Jim Buchan of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Photo by Michael Lopez of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin