High-school basketball teams around the state tipped off their seasons this week, and I was at the Peninsula High gymnasium Wednesday night to witness the dawning of a new era for the Seahawks boys program.
In April, Peninsula brought in Jake Jackson for his first head coaching gig. Jackson is a former Lute Olson disciple at the University of Arizona, and assisted the Sumner Spartans as they claimed Class 2A state tournament berths in 2011 and 2012.
Jackson's debut at Peninsula couldn't have gone much better, as the players executed his hard-nosed defensive style and run-and-gun offense with ruthless efficiency. Peninsula built a 38-12 halftime lead, and beat the North Mason Bulldogs 64-22.
What's really exciting about this team is its youth: Freshman point guard JaQuori McLaughlin was as good as advertised, and 6-foot-6 freshman forward Jimmy Ritchie also had some nice moments. I'm still waiting to learn whether a third freshman, Eric Wattree, will be eligible for varsity play this season. Jackson called Wattree one of the team's top-five players.
Certainly, the Seahawks will face tougher tests this season than North Mason, but the 42-point margin of victory says something. I haven't ventured into the record books, but it's been a while since the program won that decisively.
I visited with Jackson and his players Monday afternoon, and here's the preview story we'll publish in the Gateway's Dec. 5 print issue.
With only six wins in the last 61 outings, there hasn’t been much for the Peninsula High boys basketball program to celebrate in the past three seasons. However, a lot has changed since Jake Jackson took the head-coaching reins in April, and a stellar freshman class could help the Seahawks put a winning product on the court this winter.
“We’ve got a new coach coming in, trying to change the culture of Peninsula basketball, get a winning attitude,” said point guard JaQuori McLaughlin, the Seahawks’ most heralded freshman addition.
Jackson, who assisted a pair of highly-successful teams at Sumner High the past two seasons, has brought confidence to the Peninsula program. He preaches a lunch-bucket work ethic to his players, and his defense-first mentality is designed to produce a lot of easy points in transition.
“They all understand the more stops we get — defensive rebounds, forced turnovers, shot-clock violations, charges — the more they can get out and run offensively,” Jackson said. “We all know the best offense, the most fun offense, is to get out and run, so they’re buying in 110 percent, and it’s just been fun to watch.”
Along with McLaughlin at the point, ninth-graders Eric Wattree and Jimmy Ritchie should bring size and strength to Peninsula’s frontcourt lineup.
Jackson said “it’s unusual” to have three freshmen on the varsity roster, but his philosophy is to put the best players at the top level.
“It just so happens, in the top 13, we have three freshmen,” he said. “And I think at any high school, these freshmen would still stand out.”
Wattree wasn’t eligible when Peninsula opened the season last week against North Mason, but Jackson was hopeful his transfer would be approved.
The Seahawks also gained some veteran skill as seniors Austin Filkins and Max Reyes returned after a year away from basketball.
“Austin and Max are a couple of my best friends, and I love having them on the team,” said Cody Olson, a third-year varsity player. “Max is great at defense; Austin is good at rebounding.”
Olson could be the main benefactor of the team’s restructuring. The senior shooting guard was a jack-of-all-trades for last year’s squad, but Jackson plans to shift some pressure away from him.
“Now, I think, he has more pieces to the puzzle, where he can step back and be more confident in who he is, and not have all the weight on his shoulders,” Jackson said.
Peninsula has versatile options at most positions. Six-foot-5 senior Patrick Hennessey will man the center’s spot, and junior Shane Hanon (6-3) has grown enough over the past year to play at small forward.
Sophomore Garrett Smith has prior varsity experience at point guard. Seniors Justin Erickson and James Silberman, and juniors Nolan Winter and O’Shea McLaughlin — JaQuori’s older brother — will factor into the two-guard rotation.
“We had a great summer season,” Jackson said. “As a team, we basically challenged each player to make 10,000 shots in the offseason, and 23 kids make that goal.”
In half-court sets, the Seahawks will run a motion offense based on read-and-react principles, but they’re hoping to create a bushel of points with their fast break.
“We’re not a very big team — I’m being critically honest — but we’re all athletic, and we’re all fast, so that’s really going to benefit our transition game,” Olson said.