WALLA WALLA — Led by 6-foot-8 post Tanner Cranor, the Wa-Hi boys will be of the taller variety as they begin the 2012-13 basketball season.
Wa-Hi basketball coach John Golden said that, although he believes his roster has the versatility to run smaller lineups, look for the Blue Devils to make use of that extra height.
“This is probably one of the tallest teams that we’ve had in a long time,” Golden said. “We can be pretty versatile. We can be long and tall or shorter and quicker, but that’s the emphasis right now — getting the ball inside to our big guys.”
Cranor, a senior who earned an honorable mention on the all-league team last season, is one of several Blue Devil returners who saw significant time on a squad that went 10-13 and finished fourth in the Columbia Basin Big Nine before exiting the district tournament with a win and two losses.
He leads a cast of six big men, all 6-3 or better, and should get the majority of minutes at the 5 position.
“He’s got another year under his belt and improved quite a bit,” Golden said. “He’s bigger and stronger. We’re looking for a lot out of him.”
Sam Arias, a quick-footed 6-3 senior, filled in admirably at the 4 spot behind now-graduated Rob Ferenz and will see minutes there again this season.
“Sam, he got in a little bit last year and he’s pretty athletic,” Golden said. “He’s improved quite a bit, so he’s another one we hope gets involved this season.”
Paul Gilmore, a 6-4 senior post, will also battle for time.
“He’s a long and lanky, athletic kid that’s going to get some time in there at post too,” Golden said.
Junior Peter Warriner (6-5), senior Colin Hogan (6-3) and junior Finn Knillman (a 6-4 exchange student from Germany) round out the front court.
Shooting guard Spencer Locati, a 6-foot junior, will lead the backcourt in the wake of all-league selections Nick Peasley and Josh Eggers, who graduated last spring.
“Between those two guys (Locati and Cranor), we’re kind of leaning on them as far as experience goes.” Golden said.
Seniors Parker Toon and Aaron Eggart will both see time at point guard, Golden said.
“Aaron Eggart is one of these guys that’s real smart,” Golden said. “He doesn’t do too much that’s flashy, but knows the game and can get the ball to the right guys. He’s a guy we’ll rely on in the backcourt.”
Rounding out the backcourt will likely be 6-1 shooting guard Eric Klicker, a junior.
“If we had to start tomorrow, he’d probably be one of the starters for us,” Golden said.
Also at guard are Dean Atkinson (a 5-10 senior), Gabe Porter (6-0 junior) and Andrew Thonney (6-2 senior).
Although the Blue Devils feature eight seniors and the remainder of the squad is composed of juniors, Golden said they have not found their identity yet.
“It’s early in the year,” Golden said. “We’ll try and get that identity and figure out what kind of team we’re going to be.
“We need to work and defend a little better,” Golden said. “We’re not a very good defensive team yet. That’s something we need to improve on.”
The Blue Devils get off to a quick start and should find out what they have fairly quickly. Wa-Hi defeated Lewiston, 55-38, Tuesday in Walla Walla behind a stifling defense and a strong presence on the boards.
Wa-Hi now has back-to-back road trips Friday and Saturday night against former conference-mates Davis and Moses Lake, respectively.
Davis won the state championship last season.
“We’re going to be challenged right away,” Golden said. “With back-to-back road trips the first weekend, we’re going to see what we’re made of right away, which is good.”
Wa-Hi visits Pendleton Tuesday before hosting Chiawana on Dec. 14 to open Mid-Columbia Conference play.
The first year of the Mid-Columbia Conference will also see the Blue Devils switch to a new game schedule wherein the boys and girls varsity teams will travel together rather than have one team stay home and the other travel. League games for the boys will now tip off at 7:30 p.m., while the girls will begin their league games at 5:45 p.m.
Golden was apprehensive about the change.
“We’ll give it a try and see,” Golden said. “It’s not ideal in terms of gym availability and sub-varsity teams. I’m not sure either it’s as fan friendly as people think it is on the surface, because there’s a lot of other things that go into it. But we’ll give it a try, we’ll see.”