The first days of high school basketball practice are special, bringing together the hopes and dreams of players who just want a shot at making the team and the long-term plans of the returning veterans.
At Central Valley, for example, boys coach Rick Sloan saw 60-odd players trying out for his three squads – which have room for 45 players.
The competition was good and, aside from the young man limping around with a giant bag of ice taped to his right ankle, competition was healthy.
Some of the aspiring Bears, both boys and girls, attacked the drills and scrimmages with the seriousness of the Final Four. For others, the competition was a thing of joy and they played with a huge grin on their face.
“I always like these first few days of practice,” Sloan said. “Right up to the point where you have to make cuts and you crush some kid’s dream.”
Sloan is refreshed coming into the season – his first after stepping down as offensive coordinator for the Central Valley football team.
But fear not, he did not spend his free fall afternoons dreaming up new schemes and play sets for the basketball team.
Nope, he said.
“I spent my time steelhead fishing,” he said. “I’ve always loved doing it and I was able to spend more time at it this year.”
Sloan does need to reel in a few replacements for players he lost from last year’s state tournament squad. Central Valley graduated first-team All-GSL pick Cameron Tucker, second-team selection Josh Thomas and honorable mention honoree Justis Simmons.
In the next gym, where a banner hangs next to the scoreboard proclaiming the state Class 4A championship the Central Valley girls won in March, coach Freddie Rehkow runs some spirited one-on-one drills from the prospective recruits.
When you have all but one player back from a team that went undefeated (28-0) a year ago and claimed a state Class 4A championship, life is pretty good to begin with.
And when you take away even the potential distractions surrounding the team with college coaches hoping to recruit the Hull twins, well, things are downright giddy.
Rehkow, wearing the biggest grin in the gym, even stopped between drills to throw up a few 3-pointers of his own.
Coach still got game, folks.
Juniors Lacie and Lexie Hull, both 4.0 students, each gave their verbal commitment to play collegiate basketball at Stanford last month, choosing the Cardinal over Washington, Washington State and Gonzaga, among others.
So the focus will be on the same task Rehkow outlined for his squad a year ago: Become the best possible team you can be today, and tomorrow work as hard to become just a little bit better.
The bar is set high for improvements.
Last year both Hull sisters were selected first-team All-GSL and Lexie was tabbed the Washington State Player of the Year by the Associated Press.
Central Valley isn’t the only area school heading into the new season off an outstanding March.
Just down the road, the Freeman boys start the new season after reaching the State Class 1A championship game, where the Scotties lost to King’s.
Returning senior Ryan Maine admitted last year that he and his teammates have not heard the end of the razzing from their counterparts on the girls team. Freeman has never won a boys basketball title – something his older sister never ceases to remind him about. She played on a state championship team.
So the Scotties will have that extra incentive to get over the top this year.
East Valley reached the girls state Class 2A semifinals last year with a senior-dominated group that brought home three state tournament trophies during their long careers.
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