Jay Humphrey has nine seniors on his 11-man boys’ basketball squad this season, but the West Valley coach still talks about how inexperienced most of his Eagles were coming into the 2012-’13 season.
After graduating a deep senior class from a year ago, the simple fact is that the Eagles’ most experienced varsity player is leading scorer Jake Love, a junior guard who first cracked the starting lineup as a freshman.
“We just had a really good senior class last year,” Love said. “Most of this year’s senior class was on the junior varsity last year. Some of them played a little with the varsity, but it wasn’t a lot. A few of them played a lot – (6-foot-6 senior post) Brady Bergman did.”
And still, the Eagles are looking awfully good, with only a loss to West Valley-Yakima to blemish their record eight games into the new season. In fact, a Tacoma News Tribune computer-based poll ranking the state’s high school basketball teams has the Eagles perched at No. 2 behind top-ranked Lynden and ahead of the aforementioned Rams.
While ranking teams based on a formula (points allowed divided by points scored multiplied by strength of schedule) is novel, West Valley was a co-favorite to win the Great Northern League with longtime rival Pullman – a team the Eagles lost to 63-50 Thursday to open league play.
“It’s always fun to have Pullman come in to play us,” senior Hunter Wells said. “East Valley may be our spirit rival and everyone gets excited to play them, but if you asked the players, they’d all tell you that our real rival is Pullman, no matter what the sport is – they’re the ones we look forward to playing most.”
If recent history holds, Thursday’s game with the Greyhounds was just the first chapter of an annual basketball opus. The teams play twice during the regular season and have met multiple times throughout the playoffs.
The Eagles move into league play stronger than when they started the season, and they have a nasty run of bad-luck by senior Tyler Stavness to thank for the improvement.
In the season opener, Stavness added 19 points to Love’s game-high 33 to lead the Eagles past North Central, 86-50. After the entire offense struggled in a loss to West Valley-Yakima, Love and Stavness scored 18 and 14 points, respectively, as the Eagles rolled past Penninsula, 70-47.
And then bad luck settled in for Stavness.
The senior first missed time with a broken nose suffered in a collision with a teammate. Once his face healed enough to get back on the court while wearing a protective mask, the 6-foot-1 wing sprained an ankle that kept him sidelined. Adding insult to injury, while he was beginning his comeback from the ankle injury, he came down with strep throat.
“Talk about having bad luck!” Love said. “If anyone is due for a run of good luck, it’s Tyler.”
Ernest Hemingway wrote “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” That’s often true in team sports.
“I think we’re a stronger team now than we were,” Love said. “When Tyler went down, Hunter really stepped up his game to kind of take his place. He’s done a great job and now, with Tyler coming back, we have just that much more offense to throw at teams.
“I think everyone knew that Hunter was a great athlete because he’s a terrific baseball player. He just saw a need and did what he had to do to be able to fill it.”
No one is more surprised by Wells’ success than Wells himself.
“I worked with coach Humphrey on my shot last year and he helped me change my shot a little,” he said. “I just wanted to help take some of the load off of Jake. My shots just started to fall for me and I got a lot of confidence.
“It’s just like hitting a baseball – confidence is a huge part of being successful.”
Wells knows about baseball. Before the basketball season started he verbally committed to play baseball for Lower Columbia College next year.
Wells averaged 11.5 points per game over the Eagles final four games of 2012, including a 17-point effort against Sandpoint.
Wells scoring adds balance to Love, who averaged 17 points through the first eight games – who follows a family tradition.
Older brother Tyler Hobbs was a standout football and basketball player for West Valley who went on to play football at the University of Montana. Older sister Hannah graduated last year after a four-year career as a three-sport standout.
“I grew up watching West Valley basketball,” Love said. “I don’t think I missed any of my brother’s games when he played here. I missed a lot of my sister’s games because I was playing my own games.”