With a six-week season and only a handful of practices before their respective league openers, the Yelm and Rainier varsity basketball teams faced off in an extra-league intramural game Saturday, May 1, at Rainier High School.
When all drives were completed, passes made and shots sunk, Rainier took the day, ousting Yelm 64-47.
“They played extremely hard,” said Rainier head coach Jeremey Landram of his team’s performance. “They worked really hard and made shots at the right times. It was a comforting feeling to see them have success after the 14-months off and the opportunity to play in Rainier jerseys again.”
This sort of hard work is going to be a centerpiece of Rainier’s program moving forward, Landram said.
“We’ll continue to improve their bodies and their athleticism, as well as continue to become better basketball players,” he said. “We’re never satisfied, so we’ll strive to improve, to be better than we were yesterday.”
He said the team is more mature this year, with most of them being juniors. A couple players to watch out for this season include Ian Sprouffske and Jake Jeske.
“We’re juniors now, we’re older,” Landram said. “I have a core group of five to eight kids that have really invested into the program, and into the weight program. That’s been great to see. The key is all their hard work and dedication are hopefully going to pay off this year.”
Yelm head coach Dave Wasankari said his players didn’t let the tides turning against them in Saturday’s game get them down.
“We played hard,” Wasankari said. “Players were trying to put themselves in a place to be successful and we were unselfish. I think the players were really excited to play and remained positive throughout the game when things didn’t go our way.”
Wasankari agreed that Rainier also played hard, and that they were well-coached by Landram in his third year at the school, and 15th total coaching season.
Landram said he coaches because, “I love kids and love basketball.”
Wasankari shares a love for basketball with Landram, saying he coaches because there are few things that bring him greater joy than watching kids work hard and teaching them a game they share a passion in. It’s important work, he said.
“There’s nothing better than building relationships with young men and women,” Wasankari said. “It’s the greatest gift that is given to teachers and coaches. There’s nothing better. I think that’s a reason why a lot of people coach and a lot of people teach. I think that in using basketball as a tool is a great way to build relationships and help mentor and help work with young men and women.”
Yet Wasankari said his team got in its own way Saturday night.
“We settled for shooting threes from the outside and shot the ball poorly,” he said. “Our players are good shooters, however we could not get shots to go down on Saturday.”
He did mention that a few of his kids showed promise in the game, however.
Returning varsity player, Junior Jeshua Hardie scored two points, Wasankari said, and “will only get better. He gets open on the offensive end and his teammates find him.”
Freshmen Damien Butler and Nathan Paul also showed promise, a kind of potential that showed flashes in their efforts, while Joe Sapegin, Marius Aalona, Terelle Dunn and Damien Aalona are expected to show up for their shooting abilities by season’s end, Wasankai said.
Rainier standouts Ian Sprouffske, who shot 24 points on Saturday, and Jake Jeske, with 15, were “competitors and hit big shot after big shot all game long,” Wasankari said. “Their posts play hard and hurt us on the boards.”
And Landram said this kind of muscle will follow Rainier as the season progresses.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Wasankari said his team needs more practice time to iron out collective play, both defensively and offensively, a resource that has been in short supply during the strangest of basketball seasons.
“We need time to implement our program’s emphasis and non-negotiables,” he said. “Simple basketball, boxing out, execution, team defense and the right effort. We will get there. We have one returning varsity player from Yelm’s team from last year. We are trying to put a lot of pieces together in a short period of time. … We are going into the gym and we are going to work.”
Overall, Wasankari said his team is balanced and versatile. They can defend, shoot the ball, and put it on the floor.
Rainier’s team has proven to do that as well, so both teams are priming themselves for successful seasons. Yelm’s may be a rebuilding year, and Rainier’s may be a year to fine-tune something that’s already working, but both teams aim to be primed for success, nonetheless.
Wasankari said time away from the game is going to be a challenge that his team will work hard to overcome.
“We have some kids who haven’t played organized basketball in a long time because of COVID and so just getting into the flow of the game, the speed of the game, playing together, playing defense as a team are things that we’ll need to improve on every day,” he said, adding that all teams need to do these things.
Despite COVID-19-related challenges, Wansankari said his approach for the season will be the same as it always is.
“My approach is the same, in the sense that we have a six-week season, essentially, and our goal is to maximize our potential and get better every day in every aspect of the game,” he said.
Wansankari said basketball has been taken away from these kids, but now they’re getting it back, which means a great deal to them.
“Whether we have six weeks, we’re going to make the most of it, not only in our improvement, but we’re just going to be excited and really enjoy the fact that we get to go out there and play basketball,” he said. “It’s incredibly healthy for these kids to go out and compete and just play basketball. It’s such a great sport. It’s so fun. They need it. I need it. We all need it.”
Landram echoed these sentiments, saying this season has been a long time coming for the Rainier players.
“They’ve waited a long time and they’ve worked really hard to get to this point, so I’m excited for them and the opportunity they get to play,” Landram said.