WALLA WALLA - Wa-Hi boys basketball coach John Golden will tutor a new cast to Blue Devils for the 2010-11 season.
Yet, as the waited for his 2009-10 team to face Decatur for the fourth-place finish at the 2010 Class 4A state tournament in the Tacoma Dome Saturday afternoon, he also reflected on the nine seniors who would move on after their final game.
"We're going to look a lot different, that's for sure," Golden said, looking ahead. "We don't have a lot of court experience coming back (as opposed to this year when five members of the varsity played on the 2009 team that made the trip to state).
"We've relied heavily on Gary (Winston, a University of Idaho recruit) and Michael (Weisner, a University of Montana recruit) and Colton (Arias, contemplating football at Idaho or basketball at Walla Walla Community College) for the last two or three years.
"So, it's going to be an adjustment," Golden said. "We will look a lot different, but we have a group of good, young players coming up. Seth Alden and Matt Watson got a lot of time on the court this year for juniors, and (junior) Alex Ceron played quite a bit for the junior varsity.
"We've got some JV kids and some sophomore kids coming up, so it's going to be different," he continued. "We have a good group of freshmen, and promising athletes in the middle schools. There's some good talent there, so we're excited for the future.
"It's going to be a lot different, that's for sure," Golden said.
Yet, Golden still had his senior players in mind.
"This has been a really good group," Golden said. "We spent a lot of time together over the course of the last two or three years, with summers and at state the last two years.
"It's really going to be hard to see them go," he said. "They've been a lot of fun to be with at practice every day. They really do get along. It's a unique group. I've been fortunate to be around them and to have them work so hard for us and for each other.
"It's been a lot of fun."
The players expressed similar sentiments. Here are individual reactions to ending their prep careers prior to defeating Decatur, 48-38, on Saturday to take home the fourth-place trophy:
"I've been playing (football and basketball) with these guys for my entire high school career, and it was tough not getting to state in football. So it was good to come here and place at state.
"We didn't have a whole lot of depth in football, so if one or two people got injured, it really put a dent in the team. Thankfully, everyone stayed healthy in basketball. I think we've made a good run.
"It was our goal at the beginning of the season to make it to the state tournament and to place. That was one thing we didn't do last year (when Wa-Hi made the trip and went 1-2).
"It was important for us to do that this year.
"It was fun to win the league title at Ike in 2009. But the best things to remember will be all of the relationships I've built with my friends here. That's the most important thing to me. The state tournaments are the most fun part of the season. Obviously, winning a trophy here is a good memory.
"I just want to say thank you to all of my high-school coaches, and anyone who has coached me in my career, and thanks to all of the guys on my team who have been good teammates and good friends to me.'
"This basketball season has been a little bit of a make-up season for the football season that ended too soon. It was fun last year in basketball, making it to state.
"Then in football we did pretty good, but you can't beat this state tournament at the Tacoma Dome. The atmosphere is unbelievable. And when I look back on these years, what I'll remember most is friends.
"We've all been close since our freshman year. We've all been on the same teams.
"I'd tell younger people to cherish the moments. They go by way too fast."
"It's really nice to come here and be bringing home some hardware (Wa-Hi was assured of a trophy before playing Decatur). It's like a second chance (for the eight football players), and I'm really happy with what the whole team did. We really pulled through.
"I've played with most of these guys for my high school career. We just had a great time on trips and hanging out in the hotels. Some of these guys are clowns, and it's fun to be around them.
"I had a lot of fun this year, and it went by so fast that I'd tell anyone else who is thinking about big goals like this to have fun with the time you have because all too soon it's going to be over."
"It's been fun. This whole year has been fun. It's been a great experience. Making it here was one of our biggest goals, and we really came together as a team to get that done.
"That's something I'll remember, the way we came together as a team. And I'll remember beating Kamiakin (after losing twice to the Braves), taking them out in our last regional game to get here.
"We had a good game against Eastlake to get to the trophy round. We've really been playing well as a team. We've played good defense, and our offense came together against Eastlake. That's something we wish had happened against Wilson (a loss, dropping Wa-Hi in the consolation bracket).
"It's a great way to end the season and our high school careers, at state and playing for a fourth-place trophy (which Wa-Hi won)."
"I've played football, basketball and baseball (again this spring) with these guys for all four years, and before that with some.
"You get to know these guys really well, and they become your best friends. They care about you more than anybody does (other than family), really.
"It's not only sports. We're always hanging out on weekends, doing whatever. It doesn't matter what, really, as long as we're together. We love being together.
"I'll always be able to look back at all the close games we've been in. It's been amazing this year, some pretty special stuff (including winning two loser-out games at regional and one at state).
"It's been fun, and I thank my parents for supporting me and thanks to all of my friends for playing sports with me."
"A lot of us played sports together before high school, back to Little League. I'm never going to forget them. We've had a lot of fun. I've enjoyed being around them and being friends with them.
"It's not only sports, we just go out and hang out together.
"It's been a blast, especially this basketball season. I'm glad that I made the team and got in my fourth season of basketball (and baseball this spring). It has been just unforgettable."
"I've been with these guys now for four years, and I can't remember one fight where we did not like each other for more than five minutes. We like to make fun of each other, but we always mean well. It's been fun.
"One thing I'll look back on is probably the Kamiakin game that we won in the regional tournament at the Toyota Center. That was pretty cool. Seeing their faces after we beat them was pretty nice (after two losses to the Braves).
"The game Friday against Eastlake (to make the trophy round), to beat them by that much (67-49), was unbelievable.
"I'm happy with the way the season went, and I'll keep in touch with all the guys (while in pre-med school next fall) so that I won't miss them too much. I won't miss them right away because I'll be seeing them every day (on the track team).
"I've been with these guys in sports through high school, AAU basketball, Little League baseball, middle school football (and track this spring). It's been a long time, and most all of them are my best friends.
"It's just sad that this is the last time I'll be able to play basketball with them. They'll be my friends forever, so we'll keep in touch. I think we're going to try to get together every year, at least once, for a reunion and have a good time.
"In basketball, winning the district championship last hear was a great moment, but every game with these guys will be remembered. I'm going the miss them all. Every memory was a great one.
"I appreciate my family's support, my friends, all my teammates and coaches. It's been a great four years."
"I've known all my senior teammates for a really long time. It's going to be different after this. This is our last game together. I remember when we were really little, and it's kind of weird (to be here now). It hasn't really hit me all the way yet.
"I'm sure it will on the ride home. We'll keep in touch, but we probably won't get to see each other the way we would like to. So, it will be different.
"We've got a Facebook page, and stuff like that, which helps.
"I really appreciate the fans, the community, all of our coaches, and I'd like to thank God for blessing me and the team all through our high school years.
"It's been fun."