Team motto will be key for Warriors

By on December 3, 2014
 Forward/guard James Willis (left) is one of seven seniors playing for the Warwick boys basketball team this winter.

Forward/guard James Willis (left) is one of seven seniors playing for the Warwick boys basketball team this winter.

It will behoove the Warwick boys basketball team to have a short memory this winter.

The Warriors’ 7-14 finish from a year ago?

Move on from it.

Long scoring droughts in the middle of games?

Ancient history.

“The first time something goes against you, are you going to say, ‘Here we go again?,’ or is that behind you. As a coach, it’s behind me,” said eighth-year skipper Jeff Landis (71-90 overall). “I spent some time this summer looking at some things that I thought we need to do differently to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and it’s behind us. The first time we go five minutes without scoring the basketball, I’m not thinking, ‘Well, here we go again.’ That’s not part of my thinking. It’s a new season and it’s a new unit and we’ll determine just how good we are by how hard we work.”

Seven seniors on the roster, six of whom saw significant varsity minutes on last year’s team (6-10 Section One), is a good place to start.

Admittedly, Landis was a bit frustrated with the participation &tstr; or lack thereof &tstr; from his players in workouts this past summer. Lately, over the past two months or so, Warwick’s boss has been more encouraged by their time investment.

“I think the seniors have really started to buy in,” Landis said. “When there’s that kind of commitment, then you become a little closer as a team.”

That ‘team’ concept will be an important one for the Warwick boys this winter. In fact, it’s one of their keys if they hope to return to the post-season for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Warriors fell to CD East and Central Dauphin in 2011-12 and 2012-13 in District play-in games.

“I expect to improve (from last year),” Landis said. “I have high goals for them. I’m putting this on my seniors. Are we happy to compete or do we want to win? Is it more about the name on the front than the name on the back? If we play for Warwick instead of ourselves, I think we’ll be fine. And I think this group gets that … or is getting it.”

The senior nucleus &tstr; consisting of Jordan Cipalla (6.0 ppg, team-high 30 treys), Grant Forney, Nate Miller (30 points), Damian Soto (8.9 ppg, 28 treys), Adam Wagaman (20 points), James Willis (6.7 ppg, 13 treys) and Grant Zimmerman (7.9 ppg) &tstr; will have to set the tone.

Wagaman (knee) and junior Colin Gibble (ankle) are expected to miss the first two to three weeks of the season due to injuries suffered during the football season. Gibble averaged 5.9 ppg with 19 triples last year.

The Warwick boys lost Jake Shillady (9.2 ppg), their leading scorer from 2013-14, along with Austin Myers, Matt Pennypacker and Taylor Slagle to graduation. But Landis isn’t concerned about his team’s ability to score this winter.

“We’ve got a lot of kids back where if everyone picks their scoring up two or three points, that makes up for it pretty quickly,” Landis said.

Preparing for his third year as a varsity player is Soto, a 5-foot-10 guard/point guard who will often bring the ball up the floor and is one of the Warriors’ top shooters.

“I think what we’re asking Damian to do is to become a little more consistent with his overall play,” Landis said. “There’s nights he can be as good as anyone on the floor and then there’s nights where there’s a little bit of a fall-off. We just want him to be more consistent and that comes with experience, so I expect that from him.”

A year ago, Warwick averaged 53 points a night and Cipalla was in the middle of a lot of their offense, leading the team in assists. The 6-foot-1 guard/forward is also a valuable key in their defensive game plans.

“He can shoot the ball a little bit and he is one of our best on-the-ball defenders,” Landis said. “Jordan does a little bit of everything.”

Offensively, the Warriors will look to push the ball a little bit this winter. Guard Colin Gibble and swing men such as Willis (6-foot-2) and Zimmerman (5-foot-11) &tstr; as athletic as they come &tstr; will contribute in that area, in addition to providing options in helping Warwick handle pressure.

“I have a bunch of athletic guys,” Landis said. “I think James Willis is as improved as anyone. He just spent a tremendous amount of time on his game over the summer. Grant Zimmerman has the ability to score inside. He’s probably our leading returning rebounder and he’s very athletic. He’s working on increasing the range of his jump shot.”

While the Warwick boys might not have anyone who is going to score 20 every night, Landis is confident that one of his team’s strengths is its ability to spread the points around.

“I tend to believe that if we play 10 games, we might have a different leading scorer five times,” Landis said. “Ideally, it would be great if we got to the end of a close game and we said (to a go-to scorer), ‘Here we go.’ But the one thing we’ve gotten a little better with is these guys have a feel for who is having that game. Their basketball IQ is getting a little higher.”

Defensively, Landis expects to mix up the defensive looks they give opponents more often, perhaps employing a 1-3-1 zone in a lot of games while trying to capitalize on the length of his players.

Miller, who stands 6-foot-4, is athletic and showed glimpses of his potential with a nine-point game against Penn Manor last year. Willis has a long wing-span, Wagaman (6-foot-3, 230) will be someone to be reckoned with inside once he returns from injury, while Cipalla and Zimmerman provide physicality and athleticism.

“Nate Miller had an extremely good scrimmage (at York Suburban),” Landis said. “He’s very athletic and can shoot and run the floor. He’ll have to have a big season for us to be successful. When Adam’s back, he’s a physical presence, a big body to throw people around.”

One area where Landis believes his team needs to improve is guarding the ball and getting defensive stops. In 2013-14, the Warriors allowed 55 points per game, including a season-high 69 on three occasions to West York, Lebanon and Township.

“Rebounding the basketball and stopping people will be very important,” Landis said. “They’re concerns for every team every year. Those are two big facets of the game, but our team is really going to have to do it as a unit.”

That unit will also include senior guard Grant Forney (5-foot-10), who played mostly JV last year but displayed a strong work ethic in the off-season, junior guard/forward Kyle Weaver (6-foot-0), who moves up from the JV squad, and sophomore guard Alex Lalovic (6-foot-0), an All-Section player in soccer this fall.

“Grant Forney spent an awful lot of time to get better and I think his teammates see that and respect him because of it,” Landis said. “Kyle Weaver has the ability to score the basketball &tstr; he’s a very good shooter. And Alex Lalovic can score and he had a very good scrimmage defensively against York Suburban. He has the ability to guard the basketball.”

They will need all hands on-deck when facing defending Section One and L-L champ Cedar Crest, who appears to be the favorite again in the league race.

“They played over 100 games this summer, they played an AAU circuit, a men’s league circuit, a high school circuit and they had 90 percent of their guys at everything,” Landis said. “That being said, will they be playing their best basketball in December as opposed to February? I don’t know. Coach (Tommy) Smith did a great job of having them peak at the right time last year. I can’t really worry about the other teams. I’ve just got to make sure that we’re getting better and coming together.”

If the Warriors do indeed gel as a team, they would like to think of themselves as playoff contenders. Certainly the road won’t be easy, beginning with their season opener this Friday, Dec. 5 at home against Governor Mifflin.

“They’ve set their goals pretty high,” Landis said of his players. “They obviously want to make the playoffs, and in our Section, the League playoffs is a very tough task. You’ve got the League champion coming back from our Section with everybody except one or two kids. You’ve got Hempfield with an All-League point guard and McCaskey brings back 90 percent of their lineup. So every night, you’ve just got to come ready to go. Our schedule is front-loaded this year. We’ve got a lot of non-league games early. It’d be nice to get off to a good start. The first game Friday night will be a great place to start.”

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