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Senior-laden Warriors look to contend
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
If the Warwick boys basketball team proved anything last winter, it was that they had a knack for pulling out some thrilling finishes.
Take, for example, the Warriors’ 44-41 win over Solanco when K’shawn Mickens hit a half-court 3-pointer at the horn.
They also earned a last-second triple OT win over Cedar Crest, and buzzer-beating victories against rivals Hempfield and Manheim Twp.
"There’s a lot of confidence because we won a lot of close games last year," said Warriors’ sixth-year boss Jeff Landis (54-65 overall).
By the same token, the 2012-13 Warwick boys’ squad should be well aware that they can take nothing for granted as they prepare for a new season. With seven seniors on the roster who have been battle-tested in Section One dogfights, they have a wealth of experience.
It is Landis’ job to figure out how the pieces will fit together.
"The toughest thing will be having everyone buy in," Landis said. "When you have seven seniors, with only five people on the court at a time, and Jake (Shillady) and Austin (Myers) have done a lot to show that they can help us as juniors, so they’ve got to buy in and they’ve just got to work as hard as they can when they’re in the game … I talked to them (Saturday) about the fact that one of the biggest things for us is we’ve got to be each other’s biggest fans. We’ve got to be pulling for each other and that’s hard when you have all seniors. They all want to be out there and they should. But for us to get to where we want to get, that’s the way it’s going to have to be."
Where the Warriors want to get is the post-season. One year ago, they finished the season with an 11-12 record after suffering a 60-46 loss to C.D. East in a District Three Quad-A preliminary-round playoff game.
Graduation losses took their leading scorer Derrick Shields (14.7 ppg, 14 treys) and Jared Grosh. But Landis likes the mental makeup of his returning players, and their defense appears to be an area of strength, all of which Warwick is hoping will lead them on a deeper run in the playoffs this spring.
"(The season) will be a success if we leave it all out on the floor," Landis remarked. "The wins and losses take care of themselves when you do that. And it is our goal to get into the post-season. We were 10-6 in Section play last year and 1-5 in non-league. You’d like to think that if you’re 10-6 in Section One and that you win two or three non-league games, you’d actually have a home (playoff) game or two. But we’re not settling for 10-6. If that’s where you fall, that’s where you fall, but we’re setting our expectations higher than that. But right now, we have to take it one practice at a time and the kids have done a pretty good job of that so far."
Guards Mickens (8.1 ppg, 27 treys) and Matt Engle (7.9 ppg, 10 treys), both seniors, are doing a pretty good job as returning starters for the Warriors. Landis noted that they are interchangeable bringing the ball up the floor, and senior Tyler Stief is also in the mix at the guard position.
"(K’shawn and Matt) are both very good with the basketball," Landis said. "I think we can take turns bringing it up — if one gets tired or if one has a difficult matchup, we can do that. It’s early but I think they both have improved their shots. Matt’s ability to get to the basket is pretty good. And we have Tyler Stief as a third guard who worked extremely hard in the off-season and has improved his game. He will figure in there. I think some nights we may start small with a third guard."
Their guard play is also a big reason for the Warriors’ high hopes on defense. In its first scrimmage, Warwick held Owen J. Roberts scoreless in the opening 10 minutes and ended up limiting the Wildcats to roughly eight points per quarter.
"If you’re only giving up 40 to 42 points or 45 points a game, you’ll be in games," Landis said. "We’re going to try to score off of our defense. It should be a strength of ours hopefully … We have some guys that are willing to step in there and take some charges and harass the basketball. I thought K’shawn did a tremendous job (Saturday). He stripped guys a couple of times."
While the Warriors have the ability to play a three-guard lineup, they also hold the pieces to go with a bigger look, which could include the much-improved Shillady playing a swing role.
"Jake’s improved tremendously and he’s gong to be a big asset to our team," Landis said. "He played some last year, but he will definitely get a lot more minutes this year."
Others in the front court will include senior Tyler Morris (9.9 ppg), who at 6-foot-4 with a team-best 35 triples last year will provide some match-up problems for opponents, senior Colby Weit (5.0 ppg, 23 treys), senior Chris Devlin, and 6-foot-3 senior Eric Wagaman. Myers (6-foot-2) is another swing player who could be on the wing or at guard.
With four guys standing 6-foot-4 or taller, Landis believes his team will match up size-wise with anyone, and the Warriors also have some athleticism in that group. What the Warwick boys don’t necessarily have is a post player, which could be a cause of concern if their shooting from the field goes cold.
"We’ll look to do some spreading of the floor, making lanes available to get to the basket and try to get to the foul line," Landis said. "One thing Derrick did last year was get fouled. He had a nice 15-foot pull-up and I think K’shawn, Tyler Stief (and) Matt Engle have all developed that."
The plan for Warwick is to make up for Shields’ scoring output by committee, not for one person to carry that load by himself.
"I think every one of these guys that’s coming back could increase their average from last year," Landis remarked. "It might not be the same person every night either, which makes us a little more difficult to guard."
Morris, who has earned a scholarship to play baseball at Liberty University, will certainly be in that mix. The senior power forward averaged 8.7 ppg through Warwick’s first 18 games last year, but then scored 70 points (14.0 ppg) with 16 of his 35 treys in the team’s final five games.
"Tyler is a real good athlete, and the fact is that, as the season goes along, Tyler progresses sometimes more than other kids because he’s a baseball player in the off-season," Landis said. "When he comes back, he’s 100 percent ready to go, but sometimes it takes a little while to get into the flow of it. But I’ve been very pleased with him."
The Warriors, as a team, will need to be 100 percent ready to go facing Section Three favorite Donegal in their opener at the Indians’ Tip-Off Tourney, followed by either Section Two favorite E-town or West York, and then Lampeter-Strasburg, a 22-6 squad last year that reached the State Tournament.
In February, however, the Warriors are hoping to be chasing their first L-L League playoff appearance since the 2006-07 season.
Asked if his squad can challenge for the top two or three spots in Section One, Landis said, "Absolutely, and that’s what our goals are. McCaskey is very talented. They’ll probably have a better team this year than last. But we’ll give them our best shot. Hempfield has very good guards. Penn Manor has a new system, they have a 6-7 center that’s coming along, Cedar Crest plays hard, Township has a new coach. Every night, you’ve got to show up ready to go or you end up on the wrong end. But that’s the fun of having to compete every night … I like this team and I think we’re going to be good. How soon are we going to be good is the question. We’re going out there the first week or two playing teams that have had all their pieces all summer long. They may be a little ahead of us now. It doesn’t mean we’re not going there to compete and try to beat them because I think we can. But we have to keep our eyes on the prize and realize it’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon." More WARRIORS, page B-3