Rancho Cotate Cougars Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Washington knows he has work to do getting his team ready for league play. The Cougars, after a 67-57 loss to Sonoma Valley Friday night, are now 4-6 on the season. For community members expecting the basketball team to replicate the success of the football team, they might have to wait a little while.
It’s not that the Cougars aren’t a team with talented players, it’s that they are really young. The Cougars’ roster has just four seniors, which is extremely rare for varsity basketball. How young, community members might ask? The team has four freshman and three sophomores on a team of fifteen players. Almost half the roster consists of freshmen and sophomores. When that is the case, it’s code for rebuilding season.
Not only are the Cougars a young roster, but they also have to integrate football players back into the fold. Rasheed Rankin, Ryan Hoxsie and Max Uli all played Fri. night and Washington talked about how he’s trying to work those guys back into the rotation.
“I think it’s us building our team chemistry,” Washington said. “We just got the football guys back on Mon., so everybody is still figuring out how to play with each other and play within the system. So overall, it’s building our trust in each other and trust in what we are doing.”
The Cougars started out well Fri. night. They had a 10-8 lead after the first quarter and were down by 5 points at halftime. The third quarter is when the game got away from the Cougars. The Dragons built close to a 25-point lead and it was clear Washington was working on finding the right combination of players to combat the run. A good sign for the Cougars was how they played in the fourth quarter. They won the fourth quarter and started to creep back into the game. Seeing the Cougars continue to play hard and the younger players gaining more confidence is a good sign moving forward.
Washington was hopeful the new players would be acclimated into the team before league play. He talked about the difference between football conditioning and basketball condition as well as them relearning the plays. The Cougars start league play in a couple of weeks, so Rankin, Hoxsie and Uli seem to be on track to contribute by that point.
With a young team and multi-sport athletes joining, it’s clear the Cougars’ rotation is still a work in progress. During the opening scrimmage against Santa Rosa High School, Washington gave many young players the chance to play. Even Fri. night consisted of playing everyone on the Cougars’ roster. This was done not only to see who the best 9 or 10 players are, but also to see which combination of players work the best together.
“It’s definitely a work in progress,” Washington said. “We have football guys we are trying to work in, and we also have talent that were here before the football guys that we are trying to ensure are still developing for the long haul.”
One of the toughest jobs as a coach is figuring out which players will play. Every year there are players who get disappointed if they aren’t in the rotation, so the coach will have to keep them engaged all the while working with those players who are a part of the team. This will be the job of Washington. He obviously wants to win, but it was clear he cares about the development of the young players as well. Finding the right balance will be key for him during the early part of the season.
One player who really looks like a building block for the Cougars is Junior Guard Jayvion Scott. Scott led the Cougars with 23 points Fri. night and Washington had nothing but praise for the potential Scott has and his ability to score with ease.
“The skies the limit for him,” Washington said. “We understand how good he is getting to the hole, he’s contributing with his passes, doing a good job looking up for teammates and starting to knock his jump shot down. The fact he’s starting to get it down on the defensive end allows him to get more playing time, which is giving him more opportunities to put the ball in the hoop. I’m really excited for him and glad we have him for another year.”
Having a player to build around is crucial for any program. It was clear Fri. night Scott is the go-to player for the Cougars and he isn’t shy about attacking the basketball and scoring. Scott had almost half the points for the Cougars and doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down either.
Scott is one building block for the Cougars along with Sophomores Andrew Pengel and Malik Roby. Washington hopes these three players continue to develop and some of the other young players take the next step and make the Cougars into a formidable team.
Washington knows playing varsity basketball isn’t easy and the younger guys will make mistakes, but the key will be to help coach them through those mistakes.
One thing the Cougars will need to work on is defending the three-point line and limiting the number of threes they shoot. The Cougars lost the 3-point game 9 to 4. The Dragons won the game by 10 points and outscored the Cougars by 15 points from distance.
Basketball is becoming consistently about the three-point shot and the Cougars didn’t make enough threes to win Fri. night. Not only did they not make enough threes, but they didn’t defend the three well. Washington knows the team has to do a better job in that department heading into league play.
“We shot way too many threes and they made way more open threes than we did,” Washington said. “I think we need to a better job of limiting our three-pointers, taking better shots, but making sure we are guarding the three-point line as well by contesting three-point shooters better, so they don’t get so many easy shots.”
Guarding the three-point line along with defending the paint and finishing plays were the things Washington felt the Cougars need to do a better job at. The Cougars’ next game is Fri., Dec. 27 against Cappuccino as part of the First Annual Trojan Classic which starts at 7:30 p.m.