WALLA WALLA — The way Jeff Reinland sees it, his Walla Walla men’s basketball team is a microcosm of the NWAACC’s Eastern Region.
“This team is unique from the standpoint that in my 30 years as a head coach — high school years included — I have always had at least one player who was a really big producer,” Reinland said. “Someone who could go out and score 25 points a game, that sort of thing.
“I don’t have that on this team,” the coach added. “It’s definitely going to be a team effort with these guys this season. We are a good team, a deep team, but we don’t have any one player who can go out and get 30 points a night for us.
“It’s going to be more by committee, and that’s kind of fun to coach from the standpoint that you don’t have to worry about any one player getting in foul trouble. You don’t think about that with this team because you have a lot of guys who can come in and play.”
Reinland might just as easily be handicapping the East Region race that begins tonight when the Warriors travel to Pendleton to take on Blue Mountain on the Timberwolves’ home floor.
“Any of the eight teams is a contender,” he said. “You take a look at the non-league records and everybody is winning games. It’s not like you get to the bottom and find teams that have won just one or two games.
“I’ll put Big Bend and Treasure Valley as the league favorites based on what they have done in non-league games and what they have returning. But they are both very beatable.”
Big Bend has posted an 11-3 non-league record while Treasure Valley stands at 7-4. Spokane enters league play with a 10-4 record, Yakima is 9-5 and Columbia Basin 7-5.
The Warriors will take a 7-7 record to Blue Mountain tonight. The Timberwolves are 4-8 and the only East team other than Wenatchee (6-7) with a losing record thus far.
“Blue Mountain has won just four games, but they’ve won their last three,” Reinland pointed out. “They have a group of veteran players back and, like us, they have played a pretty tough schedule.”
The Warriors’ 7-7 record, he said, is indicative of how tightly packed the entire NWAACC is this season.
“It’s one of those deals where we could be 11-3 or we could be 3-11,” he said. “Things are just that tight.”
Reinland, who is in the midst of his 20th season as the Warriors’ head coach, is trying to get his team back to the NWAACC Championships for a fourth consecutive year. The Warriors have qualified for the postseason 14 times under Reinland and have played in the NWAACCs 11 times, placing as high as fourth in 2004 and again in 2010.
This year’s roster is a mix of five sophomores and seven freshmen, with a sixth sophomore, point guard Eric Harr, out for the season with a torn labrum. His replacement, sophomore Seth Alden out of Wa-Hi, has missed much of the season after suffering a concussion but will be back in uniform tonight in Pendleton.
“By getting Seth back we are at full strength,” Reinland said. “Other than Eric, that is. He’s been demoted to student manager.”
If the Warriors have an Achilles’ heal, Reinland said, it’s their lack of true athleticism.
“That’s the one concern I have for my group,” he said. “There are several teams that are more athletic than we are heading into league.”
Satchel Schetzle, a 6-foot freshman guard from St. Maries, Idaho, is the Warriors’ most athletic player, according to Reinland. He also leads WWCC in scoring with a 16.5 average.
Another freshman, 6-0 guard Prince Lacey of Bothel, Wash., is averaging 13 points a game, most of the time as the team’s valuable sixth man.
Sophomore Dallas Reich of nearby Athena is at 11.7 points per game, sophomore Caleb Bravard scores 10.2 per game and three others — Allen, sophomore Austin Nooner and freshman Joel Underdahl — average between seven and eight points a game.
“We are pretty talented,” Reinland said. “All of those guys are capable of scoring 20 points on any given night. The overall picture is that they are all just about the same. And even with kids who haven’t been getting to play much, if their number is called I’m not worried about playing them.”