The Gig Harbor High School boys basketball team has a lot of production to replace this season. The team graduated starters Avery Jones, RJ Green, Chad Stevens and Patrick Fredrickson, all of whom are playing baseball in college.
That leaves Gig Harbor with two things: Youth, and a lack of height (Stevens, Jones and Fredrickson were all 6-foot-2 and taller).
With only three seniors on the roster, there have been some predictable growing pains. Gig Harbor beat Kingston, 54-34 to open the season, but dropped its second game to Redmond, 57-25.
“It’s been tough so far, but we’re definitely adjusting and trying to learn each other a little bit better,” said junior guard Ben Hollenbeck, also one of the school’s top football players. “I feel like we’re getting better.”
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Hollenbeck has been thrust into a bigger leadership role, along with sharpshooting junior guard Kaden Garnaas.
“We’ve kind of started slow,” Garnaas said. “Everyone is learning the new plays. I think it’s one of those things where once we learn everything, it’ll be a good year this year. It’s just different. It was such a different dynamic last year. We were a lot taller, more athletic. We probably have more basketball skill this year. It’s more fast-paced ball instead of down low, pounding the rock. Adapting to those changes has been different.”
But the team doesn’t feel like it’s a rebuilding year.
“We’re going for the playoffs,” Hollenbeck said. “We’re trying to get in and we definitely can this year. I feel like the league we’re in is a really good league. … If we can steal some games, I think we have a good shot at the playoffs.”
More than anything, it will take some time for the players to get to know each other’s tendencies.
“I don’t think it’s a rebuilding year,” Garnaas said. “We’re just learning everything, we’ve got the players to be a great team. It’s just that time it’s going to take for us, we’ve got to mesh together, learning to play with one another.”
Hollenbeck sees some similarities between this year’s team and last year’s Peninsula High School team. Young, but with promise. While it took Peninsula until about the midway point in the season, the Seahawks got things rolling in the second half once the players become more familiar with each other and more confident.
“Our goal is just to try to get better every day,” Hollenbeck said. “I can see some of us in Peninsula from last year. There were some growing pains, but you can see how it worked out for them. They’re a really good team now.”
Both players said defense will be the key to improving and competing with the South Sound 3A’s top teams.
“Everything will start on the defensive end,” Garnaas said. “We just need to guard each man and play together on defense. The offense will come. By playing strong defense, we’ll be a great team if we’re able to do that.”
Gig Harbor will hit the road to face Central Kitsap on Friday (Dec. 8). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Gig Harbor’s next home game is Dec. 15, when the Tides host crosstown rival Peninsula. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. for the rivalry game.