January 28, 2012 in Washington Voices

Eagles fly on trust

WV’s veterans know how to play together
Steve Christilaw schristilaw@msn.com
 
Colin Mulvany photoBuy this photo

West Valley boys basketball guards Jordan Gassman, left, and Dylan Ellsworth have led the Eagles to a 15-1 start.
(Full-size photo)

The average watch cannot measure the difference, but in the context of a given play on the basketball court, the fraction of a second between reaction and anticipation means everything. It’s the difference between a well-executed play and the kind that borders on the paranormal.

Jordan Gassman understands that difference.

“That’s what happens when you really know your teammates, when you’ve been playing together since you were kids and you just know what they’re going to do, even before they do,” the West Valley senior point guard explained. “Of all the seniors we have on this team, I think four of us have been playing together as long as I can remember. And even the young guys have been playing with us for a long time – it’s not just about seniors.”

Gassman got his first taste of the West Valley varsity starting lineup as a sophomore.

“We had a lot of guys playing football (in the State Class 2A championship game) at the start of the season, so I started and played quite a bit early in the season,” Gassman said. “And then through the middle of the season I didn’t play that much, but once we reached the post season, I started seeing more and more minutes.

“I think that really helped. At the start of the season, I was really nervous before every game and I think it held me back. By the end of the year I could feel the coaches and my teammates confidence in me. The nervousness went away and I’ve felt comfortable ever since then.”

Two seasons as a starting point guard, too, put Gassman and his coach, Jay Humphrey, on the same page during games.

“Jordan and I have a really good relationship, on and off the court,” the coach said. “He understands what we want to do and we’re together in our thinking. Coaches always want that kind of relationship with their players, especially your point guard. It makes a huge difference on the floor during a game.”

“Coach (Jay) Humphrey and I don’t have to do a lot of talking to understand each other,” Gassman added. “I know what he’s thinking without him having to say anything most of the time.”

With all that built-in understanding of himself, his coach and his teammates, Gassman insists he has all the confidence in the world in his teammates.

“I trust each and every guy we put out there on the floor,” he said. “I trust them all to take the last shot in a game – I think we all do. Everyone out there is capable of having a big night scoring. It’s not uncommon for one of us to go out and score 25 points one game and six the next. It the kind of team we are – we’re not selfish, we’re not worried about who scores how much. We’re all about winning.”

For the Eagles, Gassman said, that means getting to the basket.

“That’s our strength, that’s when we’re at our best,” he insisted. “Sure, we have some guys who will hit the outside jumper when we need it, but we’re an athletic team. We’re our most dangerous when we’re taking the ball to the hole.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who are so athletic that it’s difficult to stop them. (Sophomore wing) Jake Love is the kind of guy who will always get his points and he does a great job. Teams know they have to defend him. But after that, anyone can have a big night depending on what we need.”

Wednesday night it was Gassman having the big night, scoring 23 points to help the Eagles come from behind in the fourth quarter to knock off Lakeland in a nonleague game. West Valley is 15-1 with four games remaining in the regular Great Northern League season: home games with Cheney and Medical Lake and road games at East Valley and at Pullman for the regular season finale.

Gassman insists the Eagles aren’t taking the home stretch lightly. And, the same way the floor leader knows his teammates’ tendencies on the court, the senior knows his team still has room for improvement.

“I know we haven’t played our best basketball of the year yet,” he said, flatly. “We need to keep working hard and we need to keep doing everything we can to get better.”

Words like that are music to a basketball coach’s ears, and coach Humphrey agrees with the sentiment.

“It’s kind of a nice place to be, to be at 15-1 and know that you can still get better,” he said. “From the outside, it may look like we’re pretty well set. But from the inside, you can see all the little things we can do to keep making ourselves better.”

A key addition, both coach and point guard agree, is the return this season of guard Dylan Ellsworth.

Ellsworth, a standout running back as both a sophomore and a senior, missed the entire basketball season a year ago, recovering from a serious ankle injury.

“Dylan is one of those kids who brings a lot to any team he’s on,” Humphrey said. “He’s the ultimate character kind of kid you love to have. And he’s just now getting back to where he was after missing all of last year.”

“I think the biggest thing Dylan brings is his sense of toughness,” Gassman said. “He’s willing to do anything to help the team win. He’s going to come out and play hard-nosed defense, he’ll go get a key rebound, whatever it takes, he’ll do it. Just having him out there adds a lot.”

There will be no resting on either their laurels or on their reputation down the stretch, Gassman promised.

“Every game in this league is a tough game,” he said. “Everyone knows you, knows how you play and what your game plan is. You have to be ready to play every night.”

Especially when it comes to the playoffs, where being the No. 1 seed into the district tournament is no guarantee of reaching state.

“When I was a sophomore we were the No. 4 seed going into the district tournament and we ended up knocking off the No. 1 seed and going to state,” he said. “When you’ve been part of that kind of an upset, you keep it in the back of your mind and you guard against having that kind of thing happen to you.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email