Presented with a unique player in 6-foot-10 Shawn Spencer, Cascade Christian coach Jerry Williams knew he would have to adjust his long-held belief in man-to-man defense.
So, he did a little TV homework. Williams was thinking zone – although some of its nuances were foreign to him – and zeroed in on the system taught by Syracuse Orange coach Jim Boeheim.
“I tried to watch a little of every one of their games that was on TV,” Williams said. “So I watched Syracuse a lot more than I would have liked to. I did a lot of studying up like that because I wanted to make sure I was prepared.”
And now, for the second straight year, Williams has his third-ranked Cougars running a 2-3 zone despite being a strict man-to-man team for the previous decade.
Prior to the shift, he hadn’t coached anyone much taller than 6-3 in the past decade. Now he has Spencer, who has developed into one of the top post players in the 1A Nisqually League.
Spencer averaged 13.6 points and blocked 120 shots as a junior manning the middle of the Cougars’ zone last season – almost double the previous school record of 62, Williams said. Those impressive numbers could rise again this season after a full year of running the new defense, plus Spencer growing an inch and improving his agility and footwork over the summer.
“He is basically the reason we went to a zone, so he is going to be very valuable to what we do both defensively and offensively,” Williams said.
Spencer’s father, Michael, is 7-3 and played basketball at Rogers for a couple years, so Williams knew he was eventually going to coach a very tall player for the first time in 12 years.
But that didn’t mean he abandoned his love of man-to-man defense. Cascade Christian’s practice drills are still based on the same principles and Williams has worked to make his zone look as much like man-to-man as possible.
“Coach Williams has always been a (man-to-man) guy, so when you’re in the back of the zone, you see it basically work like a man defense,” Spencer said. “Each player should be guarding someone and if there is no one in your zone, you shift over to someone else. So from my perspective, it looks like a man defense.”
Williams is just hoping his team can duplicate the same formidable defense it showed in the Class 1A state playoffs last season. The Cougars held opponents to an average of 39.3 points in seven postseason games, including limiting eventual champion Lynden Christian to 40 points.
The problem was the on offensive end. Cascade Christian lost the semifinal game, 40-38, to the Lyncs before beating Cashmere, 46-44, for third place – breaking a string of two consecutive state championships. But Williams was heartened by the defense his team played throughout the postseason run.
“Our defense was probably better than any team I’ve ever coached at Cascade Christian,” Williams said. “Any team we played at the end of the year had a heck of a time trying to score against us.
“Our strength is going to have to be our defense again this year if we are going to make a deep run.”
And that will mean getting just as much from the top of the zone as Cascade Christian gets from the bottom with Spencer. That is where seniors Jacob Kushan and AJ Howells come in.
“Getting our hands up on shooters will be the biggest thing for us defensively,” Kushan said. “With our inside presence in Shawn Spencer, it is hard to shoot over him, but we have to close out on outside shooters or else we’ll have issues.”
Kushan recorded 18 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists in Cascade Christian’s season-opening 75-70 win over Franklin Pierce. Howells added 17 points and seven assists and Spencer went off for 37 points.
That was the offense clicking at its finest. The zone defense wasn’t in postseason form, though, and Williams said the scores will have to be much lower if the Cougars are going to make it back to the state championship.
“That’s not what the fans want to hear and even sometimes the players, but it’s the fact of the matter,” Williams said. “If we don’t shore things on the defensive end, it will be difficult for us to make a run.”
1A BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
Crystal Ball (2011-12 records)
1. Cascade Christian (19-8)
2. Cedar Park Christian (13-8 in 1A Emerald City)
3. Eatonville (12-8 in SPSL 2A)
4. Seattle Christian (17-6)
5. Bellevue Christian (18-7 in 1A Emerald City)
6. Vashon Island (9-11)
7. Charles Wright Academy (10-10)
8. Life Christian Academy (13-10)
9. Chimacum (13-10)
G Brendan Davis6-1Sr.Eatonville
Unsung threat who takes on more prominent scoring role at point guard.
F Cody Miller6-3Jr.Seattle Christian
Has the best mid-range game in league, and Warriors will run plenty of sets for him.
F Evan Scholten6-5Sr.Cedar Park Christian
A 3-point shooter who can also post up; should be in league MVP race.
CShawn Spencer6-10Sr.Cascade Christian
A natural leader, he feasts in the back end of the Cougars’ zone defense.
CJake Vandenbrink6-9Sr.Bellevue Christian
Back-to-the-basket, low-post scorer who has soft hands and is hard to move.
Circle the Calendar
Jan. 29, Cedar Park Christian at Cascade Christian, 7:30 p.m.
1A GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
Crystal Ball (2011-12 records)
1. Cascade Christian (19-7)
2. Eatonville (22-9 in SPSL 2A)
3. Charles Wright Academy (10-10)
4. Bellevue Christian (18-7 in 1A Emerald City)
5. Life Christian Academy (10-11)
6. Seattle Christian (16-10)
7. Vashon Island (11-11)
8. Cedar Park Christian (16-10 in 1A Emerald City)
9. Chimacum (4-16)
FKaycee Creech5-7Sr.Cascade Christian
Like a free safety, when she picks off a pass in full-court pressshe’s gone.
CVanessa Davis6-0Jr.Charles Wright Academy
No player has more upside; with Sydney Hughes gone, she might explode.
FJohnnise Moore5-11Jr.Life Christian
Very effective in the high post where she can knock down mid-range shot.
FAnya Quig5-7Jr.Vashon Island
Was Charlotte Kehoe’s running mate, and now steps into big-time role.
A creator for teammates, a penetrator and an outside shooter. Very complete.
Circle the Calendar
Jan. 15, Cascade Christian at Eatonville, 6 email@example.com