WALLA WALLA — Gone are the days when Jeff Reinland’s Walla Walla Community College men’s basketball teams lived and died on their ability to sink 3-pointers.
And not necessarily to the coach’s liking.
"It’s not because we want it that way," said Reinland, a lifelong gym rat who made his basketball living filling it up from the perimeter during his playing days at Pomeroy High School, WWCC and Eastern Washington University.
And throughout his coaching career — he spent eight seasons in Washington’s prep ranks at Leavenworth and Kelso before taking over the men’s program at WWCC in 1993 — Reinland has done his best to develop and recruit players who could deliver the long bomb. Especially so because of the 3-point reward, a rule, by the way, that was not in place when Reinland was lighting up opposing defenses from downtown.
But a couple of things have happened recently that have eroded Reinland’s coaching philosophy.
For one thing, the 3-point arc at the collegiate level was moved back a full foot last season. The official distance now is 20 feet, 9 inches, compared to 19-9 in previous years.
"It’s too far for our level," Reinland said as a matter of fact. "It should be at a distance you are forced to defend, and I don’t think it is now for most guys."
The second, Reinland suggested, is that fewer players coming out of high school are as dedicated to developing outside shooting skills as they once were.
"There simply aren’t as many pure shooters as there used to be," Reinland said. "Kids aren’t putting in the time anymore."
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear the words "strong" and "physical" repeated time and again when Reinland assesses the player he hopes can get the Warriors back to the NWAACC Championships for the first time in three years.
"I think we are going to be pretty good inside," Reinland said. "We have two legitimate guys who can score with their backs to the basket. They can rebound, and they are pretty versatile, so I feel good about that.
"I feel respectably good about our ability to shoot the ball. We have guys who can shoot it pretty well, and we have some other guys who can shoot it OK."
Reinland must replace four starters and a key reserve from last year’s 14-12 team, including all-East center Ray Stout, who averaged 16 points and eight rebounds per game as a sophomore. Wing Cameron Stevens, who averaged 13 points and three rebounds, also graduated along with starting point guard LaKeith Gardner and wing players Tyler Bollman, who averaged 13 points a game, and Jim Williams.
Key returnees include 6-foot-10 center Emery Henning, who replaced and sometimes joined Stout in the paint; post D.J. Wright (6-5), another sometime-starter; Cody Fullerton (6-4), who saw some significant minutes as an undersized post; and wings Ben Searle (6-4), whose playing time increased as the season progressed, and Alex Roll (6-4), who also saw key minutes off the bench.
"Emery is a tremendously improved player," Reinland said of Henning. "He has put on about 30 pounds and is going to be a legitimate post presence for us all year long. He averaged 10 points and eight or nine boards as a freshman, and right now he has one of the starting post positions nailed down."
Wright averaged six rebounds, three points and several assists coming off the bench last year. Reinland expects more from him as a sophomore.
"He’s a little bigger and a little stronger this year," the coach said. "He’s a real good defender, and he should give us a lot more offensive output.
And he shows a lot of leadership.
"We have some good competition on this team and we will see what happens, but (Wright) has that year of experience under his belt and we expect more than what we got last year."
Reinland describes Fullerton as "an all-purpose guy" who won’t provide a lot of offense but plays good defense in the post and will be a valuable reserve.
Searle, who actually started a few games as a freshman, averaged around nine points per game and turned in some 20-point nights late in the season.
"He is a good shooter and a good driver," Reinland said of Searle. "And he’s a strong kid who rebounds well. He’s been one of our top performers in practices and scrimmages, and we are expecting quite a bit from him."
Roll is another player who has looked good in practices, Reinland said.
"He saw some playing time last year and had some good moments," Reinland said. "He’s battling for playing time at the wing."
Reinland holds his breath when he talks about point guard Ryan Andrews (6-2), who averaged 10 points and five assists a game two seasons ago but sat out all of last season with a knee injury. He’s missed practice again this year because of the same injury but was scheduled to get his doctor’s release this week.
"We haven’t seen much of him, but we know he’s a real strong kid, physically and mentally," Reinland said. "He’s a little older and kind of a leader on the team. It all comes down to, is his knee going to hold up or not?
"He works as hard as any player I have coached here at Walla Walla. And if he can’t play, it’s a significant loss."
One of the players poised to step in and replace Andrews, if necessary, is redshirt freshman Dustin Moore (5-10), described by Reinland as the "only true point guard in the system."
"He was down a little bit on the depth chart coming into the season," Reinland said. "But if I had to play a game today, he would probably start.
He’s quick, handles the ball well and knows how to quarterback a team. My biggest concerns are his size and his ability to shoot the ball — at times he shoots well, and at times he doesn’t."
Four other redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen round out the roster. And Reinland has three others in practice who will be redshirted this season.
The redshirts from a year ago are guards Jason Smith (6-3) and Ryan Schulz (6-1), forward Dewey Baker (6-4) and Boris Vlaco (6-4), who can play either wing or forward and has even been considered as a potential point guard.
"He’s a very versatile player," Reinland said of Vlaco. "But he tore his ACL last year and he isn’t quite the same player he was. He’s still not totally recovered, but his skills are very good."
Reinland describes Smith as "the best shooter on the team" and has penciled him in as his starting off guard.
"He can put it on the floor, stop and pull up to shoot," Reinland said. "My concern is his lateral quickness and his ability to defend, but he’s a super dedicated basketball player."
Schulz is a well-built left-hander, Reinland said, who has also impressed in practices and scrimmages.
"He knows how to finish, and he’s demonstrated an ability to hit that shot from the top of the circle," Reinland said.
And Baker, according to Reinland, is an athletic, multi-purpose player who rebounds and blocks shots, although his scoring ability is a little suspect.
"He’s still a little behind, but by next year he is going to be a pretty good player," the coach said.
Of the three true freshmen, Aaron Corsi (6-7) of Saint Maries, Idaho, is expected to contribute the soonest.
"He is going to be a perfect compliment to Emery Henning, although I’m not convinced we can play them together very much," Reinland said. "But it’s a 40-minute game, and I’ve always tried to have two (posts) to get us through those 40 minutes. Aaron’s not as polished as Emery, but overall he’s a better athlete, and we expect big things from him in the next two years."
Jordan Steele (6-6) is a Boise State University transfer from Pocatello, Idaho, who never played basketball for the Broncos. And Nate Gibson (6-0) of Eisenhower High in Yakima, who has been out of school for several years, is the younger brother of former Warrior Sam Gibson.
"Jordan has good size and can shoot the ball, but so far he hasn’t demonstrated that to the degree that I thought he would," Reinland said. "Nate is a real quick, north-south player who has a lot to learn about organized ball. Sometimes he looks extremely good, and sometimes he struggles, but he is absolutely competing for playing time this year."
Beginning Friday night when the Warriors entertain Seattle CC in their 7:30 opener in the Dietrich Dome.