Buchan: Warriors' Reinland deals with recruiting disparity

Advertisement

WALLA WALLA - Jeff Reinland admits that he wears his emotions on his sleeve.

And Reinland looked lower than a snake last weekend at the Toyota Center in Kennewick after his Walla Walla men's basketball team had been knocked out of the NWAACC Championships in two games for a second straight year.

"I'm devastated," the Warriors coach said at the time. "Right now I don't know what I'm going to do. I'll need a couple of weeks to figure it out."

If that sounded like a precursor to a retirement announcement, just hold on. According to one source close to the Warriors program, that's Reinland's predictable reaction to every painful, season-ending defeat.

And it hasn't taken Reinland "a couple of weeks" to put his team's 19-10 season into proper perspective and to view his role as the team's head coach in a brighter light.

"We lost to two pretty good teams," he said Wednesday of eventual champion Tacoma and seventh-place Shoreline. "It wasn't the best draw.

"But at the end of the day, we had a great season. We won 19 games and beat some very good teams. We beat Spokane, we beat Big Bend, and we beat Yakima twice. I am not planning on calling it quits right now. I am going to keep going."

That said, Reinland recognizes the dilemma of dealing with what can only be perceived as a self-imposed disadvantage. It's called recruiting.

Of the 16 teams that qualified for this year's tournament in the Tri-Cities, Walla Walla's roster was clearly one of the most regionally restricted. The Warriors' squad included eight recruits from the state of Washington, four from Idaho and one Oregonian.

By comparison, Shoreline, the team that outlasted Walla Walla 96-94 in last Sunday's loser-out game, had seven players from Washington, four from California, two from Hawaii and one from Idaho on its roster.

NWAACC champion Tacoma, which defeated the Warriors 80-73 in the first round of play, featured nine Washington players and one from Michigan. However, the Titans' recruits came largely from metropolitan high schools up and down the I-5 corridor where basketball talent seems to grow on trees.

Some of the other qualifiers in this year's tournament were even more diverse.

Southwest Oregon, for example, had three players each from Oregon and Hawaii, two from California and one each from Utah, New Mexico and Nevada on its 11-player roster. Peninsula's roster included four players from California, three from Washington, two from Nevada and one from North Carolina, plus a pair of Australians.

A couple of Walla Walla's Eastern Region rivals fit a similar mould. Big Bend had four players from Nevada, four from Idaho, three from Washington and one from Oregon on its roster while Yakima recruited six Nevadans and one Californian to complement its five Washington players.

Spokane, the fourth East tourney qualifier, had nine Washington players and three from Idaho on its roster. But the Sasquatch also have the advantage of a metropolitan base from which to recruit.

In Reinland's 19 years as the head coach at WWCC, he has taken teams to the NWAACC Championships 12 times. The Warriors reached the semifinals three times but have never made it to the finals under his watch.

"It is very difficult to win at the tournament," Reinland said. "You look at men's basketball in the NWAACC, all of the intercity schools, you have to be pretty good to beat them. You look at all of those athletic kids who want to play, some who were recruited by NCAA Division I schools, and, yeah, it is kind of a stacked deck.

"I'm very proud of the fact that we've been to the semifinals three times. But I never felt like we were the favorite in any one of those games."

By rule, NWAACC schools are permitted to recruit eight states - Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii - plus British Columbia. Athletes from outside that area are required to make the first contact and then receive NWAACC approval before enrolling.

But Reinland has seldom ventured outside of the three-state area of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

"Our philosophy at this school is to recruit as much from Washington, Oregon and Idaho as we can," he said. "If we have local kids that we can compete with and win with, we want to give those kids a chance. And it's my decision if they are good enough.

"I've never been instructed not to (recruit elsewhere), but I know what the philosophy of the school is and that it is one of the reasons why I was hired as coach."

Five sophomores closed out their Walla Walla careers at the tournament, which means Reinland doesn't have a lot of slots to fill during the upcoming recruiting season. But they are important slots.

Six-foot-3 shooting guard Mac Stannard was the team's second-leading scorer with a 12.9 average, and he also led the Warriors in rebounding with a 7.2 average. Jay Payne, a 5-10 guard, averaged 11.7 points per game. And 6-5 post Dallen Bills averaged 11 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Reinland will also have to replace Michael Crane, a 6-3 leaper who averaged eight points and 6.5 rebounds, and 6-3 Colton Arias, a top defender and one of the first Warriors off the bench.

Reinland described his sophomores as "good kids" who "always gave" their best effort.

"Our offense was very sporadic, unusual for one of my teams, but these guys played so hard on defense," Reinland said. "That's how we won our games. We didn't have the offensive talent, but we outworked just about any group that I have ever coached."

Next year's team will be built around Dylan Radliff, a 6-0 guard who led the team in scoring with a 15.4 average, in assists with 4.3 per game and was named the Eastern Region's freshman of the year.

"We're bringing back a good group," Reinland said. "Radliff, obviously, but also Caleb Bravard, a 6-6 kid out of Colfax, and Jake Hight, a 6-7 kid from Reardon, who both had their moments this season. Hunter Hahn (6-5, Mead High in Spokane) played 16 or 17 minutes a game, and he played some big minutes, and Nathan Richard (6-5) of Rosalia redshirted this year, so he will be back.

"The cupboard isn't bare, I can tell you that."

Reinland's hope is to bring in "five or six good players" - two guards, two wings and one or two post players. And he'll be looking for a little more size than this year's team possessed.

"Absolutely, we are recruiting some taller players," he said. "All of the teams that competed for this year's championship had some pretty good sized kids, and the three times we got into the semifinals we had a pretty tall post player. So it's important when you get down to talking about winning the NWAACC championship."

And Reinland isn't about to give up on the idea of winning it all, even if his teams are at a disadvantage. But in the same breath, he is aware that his time is running out.

"I am a pretty intense person, and I tend to be a little bit hard on myself," he said. "And that's not a personality that coaches forever.

"Hopefully I can keep my head in this a little while longer. And I'm going to keep looking for one or two players who will give us that little extra punch when we get there.

"But I'm not a spring chicken any longer," he said. "At some point, it's going to be somebody else's turn."

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in