Young Warriors hope to profit from athleticism

By on November 30, 2011

By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer

The Warwick boys are taking baby steps as they prepare for the 2011-12 basketball season.

They are treating it as the marathon that it is, and not a sprint.

"We have long-term goals that we discuss amongst ourselves," said Warwick fifth-year coach Jeff Landis (43-53 overall). "But right now the main goal is to get better every day. Everyday, every play, we’re working hard and improving ourselves."

It should come as no surprise that the Warriors are taking things slow this winter. Coming off a 2010-11 season in which they graduated nine seniors from an 11-11 squad (9-7 Section One), the young Warwick boys are bringing back no returning starters.

In fact, Warwick has just two seniors (Jared Grosh and Derrick Shields) on its current roster. So Landis and his assistants have been breaking things down a little bit more at practice in the early going this year.

"There’s more teaching that’s going on at practice," Landis said. "But that’s what we need to do right now. There’s two or three new kids to the program and even some of the lingo is different, so there’s a little more teaching going on, but that’s fine. This group works extremely hard and once we have everything figured out, I think there will be some good things that happen."

The Warriors were expecting good things to happen in 2010-11 with a senior-laden team back following its run to the PIAA State playoffs one season earlier. But they slipped to a 3-7 record out of the gates, and although the Warwick boys rallied to win eight of their final 12 games, they fell short of the playoffs.

This winter, no one has high expectations for Warwick, and Landis believes that factor could work to his team’s advantage.

"Expectations are funny," Landis remarked. "Sometimes the kids are a little looser (without expectations). We played tight at times last year. I needed to do a better job of just focusing the kids on the next-play mentality. We were so wrapped up in what we were hoping for and expecting last year and it doesn’t happen without hard work … We got off to a slow start, and to their credit, they could have folded the tent when they were 3-7 and they fought back. Some of what last year’s team brought to the table I’m sure has trickled down. They never quit and I think that’s the attitude that these guys will have. We talk about how it’s real easy to be together when things are going well. Who’s going to be the one that keeps us together when times are tough because we’re going to hit some bumps in the road. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen to everyone."

Shields and juniors Matt Engle, K’shawn Mickens and Tyler Morris will be among the players that Warwick looks toward for a boost this winter. In limited action in 2010-11, they combined to score a total of 79 points, led by Morris, who averaged 3.2 ppg.

At 6-foot-4, 185, Morris is one of the Warriors’ biggest players, along with junior center Eric Wagaman (6-4, 215) and sophomore center Gavin Schaffer (6-5, 195). But although Warwick could be undersized in a lot of games, Landis believes that his team’s athleticism is one of its best strengths.

"Eric’s a little more physical. Tyler is tall, but he’s very athletic and he can move his feet," Landis said. "Ideally, Tyler would probably be best suited to play a three spot, where he could get out and really guard people — which he could still do — but we really need him around the basket a lot."

In particular, Landis likes the athleticism of his guards, a group including Engle (5-11, 155), Mickens (5-10, 155), Shields (5-10, 165) and junior Tyler Stief (5-10, 150). And with big men Eric Leisey (6-foot-7) and Jonathan Reynard having graduated, the Warriors will have to rebound the ball collectively this year.

"Our guards are going to really need to be good rebounders and our guards are athletes," Landis said. "Matt Engle played on a championship soccer team, Derrick Shields is a middle infielder for a heck of a baseball team, Tyler Morris is a very gifted athlete and so on down the line. K’shawn could be doing other things besides playing basketball because he’s very athletic. So we’re going to have to use our athleticism. We can’t use being undersized as an excuse. We must use our athleticism to our advantage and there’s games where it might not be our big guys controlling the backboard. But it might be them keeping their guys off the boards and allowing our guards to rebound. Hopefully."

Also gone from last year’s squad are All-Star guard Vince Soto, who led the team with 13.7 ppg, Anthony D’Imperio (8.8 ppg) and Ben Spotts (6.1 ppg), who each hit for 37 three-pointers, and Deron Thompson (8.8 ppg), who attempted a team-high 92 free throws.

Looking at this year’s squad, Landis believes the scoring could come from a few different sources, but he admits that Shields — the leading scorer for the JV team last year — will be one who has to put the ball in the basket.

"(Derrick) is going to have to score for us," Landis said. "He’s a very good shooter, he has the ability to get to the basket, he makes foul shots, so we’re going to need him to score. (Going from JV to varsity) is a bump, but he practiced against these guys every day last year. Going up against an All-League guard in Vince, that should have a lot to do with getting him ready for this year. He can shoot from the outside, he can get to the basket, and he can rebound the basketball. He’ll be able to get putbacks for us. He can really jump."

The Warriors, though, aren’t expecting Shields to shoulder the entire load.

"I think (Tyler) knows he has to rebound for us, he has to score and defend," Landis said. "There’s quite a few that know we expect big things from from them for not being on the varsity floor much last year. Tyler would be one of those people. Matt Engle’s done a great job and I think he knows he has to be a big part. We’re really excited the way K’shawn Mickens and Tyler Stief have guarded in practice and made a comitment to the defensive end of the floor."

Without a true big man this year, one of Warwick’s concerns will be keeping opponents in front of them on the defensive end and not allowing them to get to the basket. That was an area they struggled a bit in their opening scrimmage against Exeter.

"I believe (low-scoring games) would benefit us," Landis said. "We have a couple different people that score, but we might not have that one kid like Vince where we know we’re getting 15 (points) a night. (Limiting teams in the) 40’s would be ideal."

That, of course, will require a lot of hard work on a nightly basis. But their work ethic has been a positive for the Warriors through the early part of the pre-season. Landis said that the players are doing a solid job of fighting for playing time.

"There’s more uncertainty this year than in any of the five years I’ve been here (as head coach), or even the 15 years that I’ve been here (combined as an assistant)," Landis said. "I don’t mean in terms of, ‘Can we be good?,’ because I believe we can. Two of my starting five (Morris and Shields) weren’t around in the summer. They play baseball and that’s where they belong in the summer. Baseball is their thing and we want our kids to play multiple sports. But in the last three years, I had my eight or nine guys that were at everything and when the season came, I kinda knew who went where. This year, we don’t yet. And that’s good, though. There’s competition for playing time. We’ve got to figure out where to put people to make them most useful and bringing those guys back is great. We had kids that got to play more this summer than they probably would have if (Morris and Shields) were around, so now that they’re back (with) some of our kids that have improved, throw those two in the mix and we’re a completely different ball club." More WARRIORS, page B-6

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