By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
The five positions in basketball are each designated a number, one through five. It’s not a coincidence the point guard is referred to as the “one.”
There isn’t one of the five positions with more responsibility than the point guard. Much like the quarterback in football, point guards are in charge of getting their teams into sets and orchestrating the offense, but often times they are asked to do much more.
Some point guards are asked to be scorers. Others are asked to anchor their team’s defense.
The point guard doesn’t have to be the best player on the court, and many times they aren’t. What the most effective ones must have is a certain set of skills that, when added together, make them someone the rest of the team will follow and trust.
It’s hard to find a basketball team that has achieved a high-level of success without a point guard that fits this mold.
That’s why it’s no surprise that the search for area’s ideal point guard begins and ends with its best team, the Jackson Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves placed second in state a season ago, finishing 25-1, with their only loss coming to Curtis in the 4A state championship game. They returned nearly their entire team this season, including star point guard Dan Kingma, and picked up right where they left off.
The Timberwolves are 8-0 this season and recently made a name for themselves nationally when they traveled to California and won the MaxPreps Holiday Classic, where they faced some of the best teams in the country.
Running the show in all of those wins was Kingma. Of the eight skills that make up a great point guard, no local player represents all of them better than Kingma.
“I think Kingma’s legit,” Arlington head coach Nick Brown said. “He’s the real deal. We struggled against Jackson and he was a big part of that.”
Arlington and Brown got all too familiar with Kingma and his teammates a year ago, losing to the Timberwolves in the regular season, the 4A district 1 championship game and again in the 4A state semifinals.
“He’s one of the best point guards in the state, but there are definitely some other pretty good ones,” Jackson head coach Steve Johnson said of Kingma. “I think what makes him good is that he’s obviously got the skills, the shooting, the dribbling, the passing and the quickness, which are all necessary to be a good point guard. And then (he has) the other intangibles like knowledge of the game, toughness, leadership and wanting to have the ball in his hands — those kinds of things kind of complete the package.”
In examining each skill that makes up that package, it quickly becomes apparent Kingma is one of many talented point guards Wesco has to offer.
“When you have a scoring point guard it just really puts pressure on the defense. It helps to open your entire offense. Normally you have other positions that are scoring positions, but when you have (a scoring point guard) it just naturally opens up your other shooters and your inside game.” — Andy Streit, Meadowdale head coach
Few local players who fit the mold: Barrett Carlow, Meadowdale, Nathen Grimm, Marysville Getchell, Kaleb Bryson, Arlington, Luke Neill, Glacier Peak, David Popach, Everett
If Kingma has one skill that stands out above the rest, it’s his ability to score. Like his brother, Brett, who played at Jackson before him, Dan has always had the ability to shoot the basketball, but his mid-range game and ability to drive to the hoop have improved each season he’s been on varsity.
But when it comes to scoring point guards locally, Kingma has company.
After a torn ACL in his right knee forced him to miss his junior season, Meadowdale’s Barrett Carlow has proven his ability to shoot and penetrate to the basket can change a game.
“He’s really quick and he’s a good ball-handler and he’s just got that natural-scorer mentality,” Meadowdale head coach Andy Streit said. “You have to respect his outside shot, but then he can put the ball on the floor and he’s an excellent passer, too, which helps him score because (defenders) have to respect the pass as well.”
The threat to score has quickly captured the attention of the Mavericks’ opponents. Glacier Peak head coach Brian Hunter said it was a focal point of his team’s preparation for the Mavericks before the two teams met Dec. 21.
“He was our focus that night,” Hunter said. “From a respect standpoint, we respect him greatly. I don’t expect him to play like he did against us last time the next time we play him. He can shoot the ball. He’s probably one of the better scorers in our league from the point.”
The Grizzlies held Carlow to just three points in a 48-35 victory over the Mavericks.
Despite losing point guard Dreu Vader to graduation a year ago, the Grizzlies are off to a successful start to the 2013-14 season. Vader, though he had two established scorers as teammates in Zach Pederson and Ramsey Rosales, was always a threat to score.
Senior Luke Neill has stepped into Vader’s role this season.
“Dreu is a very different player than Luke,” Hunter said. “Dreu maybe got things going a little bit more for himself than Luke does. Luke maybe looks to get his teammates involved a little bit more. There isn’t a cookie-cutter formula for a point guard.”
“Being a visionary or having good vision as a point guard also is kind of synonymous with being unselfish. I think there are a lot of point guards that can see other guys open, but there are some that want to take that shot or have the glory for themselves.” — Bary Gould, M. Pilchuck head coach
Few local players who fit the mold: Bryce Juneau, Marysville PIlchuck, Josh Thayer, Stanwood, Anxhelos Pere, Shorewood, Conin Oishi, Shorecrest
With teammates such as Jason Todd and Brian Zehr, court vision is a must, and Kingma has shown the ability time and time again to get his teammates the ball.
Another up-and-coming point guard with great vision can be found in Marysville. Sophomore Bryce Juneau is the floor general for a Marysville Pilchuck team that has started to find its stride in 2013-14 after a one-win season a year ago.
Juneau’s biggest strength is finding his teammates in a position to be successful.
“What we have in Bryce is someone who’s just so unselfish,” Marysville Pilchuck head coach Bary Gould said. “He just looks to distribute first. He’s got great vision, but to do that you also have to be unselfish.
“He’s hugely important to our success so far. Every one of our wins he’s had seven-plus assists and double-digit scoring. He’s a big part of why we’re successful. It’s really important to have someone that can handle pressure.”
Often times point guards who look to pass before they score don’t get much glory, but their value to a team’s success is immeasurable. One such guard is Shorewood senior Anxhelos Pere. It isn’t often Pere scores in double figures, but his ability to find his teammates and efficiently run his team’s offense are a reason the Thunderbirds have their sights set on a Wesco 3A South championship.
“You don’t have to look at the stat sheet to see his value for the team because you won’t see it on the stat sheet,” Mountlake Terrace head coach Nalin Sood said. “But look at the final score when it’s all over. He’s a guy that makes them go. He’s their catalyst.”
“As a team you want to make sure that you get a good shot every possession, that’s your goal. You need a point guard that can get the ball up the floor and get it into the right hands where you have an opportunity to get a good look. Teams are going to try to get you off-balance, get you away from your offensive set and create problems. The better your point guard can handle the ball, the more you are going to have the opportunity to get the ball up the floor and make a play.” — Brian Fischer, Shorecrest head coach
Few local players who fit the mold: Conin Oishi, Shorecrest, Trey Holland, Edmonds-Woodway, Steele Morgan, Snohomish, Isaiah Green, Mountlake Terrace, Bryce Juneau, Marysville Pilchuck
As talented as Jackson is, you can bet some opponents will throw pressure at the Timberwolves hoping to cause turnovers and get them out of their game. Unfortunately for them, Kingma is one of the best at handling the pressure.
Johnson said Kingma’s improved strength has made his ball-handling even better because it’s much more difficult for defenses to push him off the ball.
Shorecrest’s Conin Oishi is also one of the best ball-handlers in the area. His success might have more to do with speed than strength.
“He’s a guy that you can give him the ball and he’ll break the press,” Shorecrest head coach Brian Fischer said. “When teams throw stuff at us, something new like a challenging defense or running a trap, if we can get Conin the ball, it’s very difficult for them to execute that. Often times that’s really our counter … to get Conin the ball.”
Oishi’s ability to use his speed to dribble out of pressure has foiled the defensive efforts of many of the Scots’ opponents.
“Envisioning what a point guard that has speed can do, most importantly and first, he doesn’t allow a defense to set up. Two: he always keeps a defense on their heels. And three: what that speed can do to create and make other players better. There are point guards that have really great speed, but they don’t get to be great because they haven’t used it or harnessed it in the right way. ” – Nalin Sood, M. Terrace head coach
Few local players who fit the mold: Isaiah Green, Mountlake Terrace, Barrett Carlow, Meadowdale, Steele Morgan, Snohomish, Conin Oishi, Shorecrest
Kingma is one of the quickest, if not the quickest player on a Jackson team loaded with speed. Like Oishi, he uses that speed to get past defenders with the dribble.
Another speedster can be found at Mountlake Terrace in first-year point guard Isaiah Green. The junior took over for Blake Fernandez and Jesse Zerom, who both graduated this past June.
“Those are big shoes to fill,” Sood said. “I think by the time Isaiah graduates, (his) shoes are going to be big shoes to fill. We think of Blake and Jesse, and I don’t really have a good memory, but when I think of them, all I think about is Tacoma. But they went through steps as sophomores and juniors also and it took time for them to get to that level.”
The Hawks placed fourth at state last season and the goal is to be back at the state tournament in the Tacoma Dome in March. In order to do that, Sood said Green and fellow point guard Prescott Day will have to grow quickly.
“We’ve got four seniors that don’t really care how good those guys are going to be next year,” Sood said. “So we’re hoping that they’re going to get there by (the end) of January.”
If Green improves to the level the Hawks need him to, it’s his speed that’s going to get there.
“Isaiah’s got some speed,” Sood said. “He’s got some wheels and he can get the ball up and down the court. I’d put him in a dribbling drill up and down the court against a lot of guys.”
For a player with minimal varsity experience, using that speed properly is the biggest challenge.
“At times when he’s playing the right way, he just uses (his speed) as such an asset,” Sood said. “There are guys that have great speed and then there are guys that have great quickness. Quickness is the most important thing in basketball, whether it be offensively or defensively. There are some guys that are really fast that just don’t use it the right way.”
“You want your point guard to be a tough, hard-nosed kid that can take on anybody, but you also have to have that kid know when is it the time and when is it not the time, especially in the crunch time of the game.” — Nick Brown, Arlington head coach
Few local players who fit the mold: Kaleb Bryson, Arlington, Josh Thayer, Stanwood, Conin Oishi, Shorecrest, Anxhelos Pere, Shorewood
Outside of Kingma, it’s hard to find a point guard who makes better decisions than Arlington’s Kaleb Bryson.
Brown called Bryson one of the best point guards he’s ever coached. Without question much of that praise has to do with Bryson’s knack for making the right play.
“We run a lot of sets,” Brown said. “Kaleb does a really good job of making sure that we’re in the right spots and waiting to go.”
Brown and Bryson also share a certain kinship. Before his coaching days, Brown too played point guard. His experience at the position is one of the reasons guard play is a focal point for the Eagles.
“I really think point guards are kind of born, I don’t know if they’re made,” Brown said. “I expect them to be an extension of me. They’re an extension of the head coach.”
Bryson’s ability to make the right decisions, even in the face of pressure, helps Brown save time when it comes to practice and preparation for games.
“If you have guard problems you have to spend an extra 10-15 minutes a day on just press preparation,” he said. “I don’t ever worry that we can’t get the ball across (halfcourt).”
Kingma caught Brown’s attention in the three meetings between Jackson and Arlington a year ago. Turns out, Bryson also caught the attention of the opposing head coach.
“He’s a real solid player and does a good job leading them,” Jackson’s Johnson said. “He can shoot it. He’s a good defender. He would be one that comes to mind as a kid that’s played in a lot of big games and been a part of a lot of big wins and seems to have a lot of those things that a point guard needs to have.”
“You need someone that the (players) are looking to on the floor because as a coach you can’t be out there on the floor with them. I think a point guard with those leadership qualities is somebody that a coach can trust to kind of run the floor for him and that those guys can look to in that leadership role for their next move and to keep the game rolling.” — Kevin Faw, Shorewood head coach
Few local players who fit the mold: Anxhelos Pere, Shorewood, Josh Thayer, Stanwood, Kaleb Bryson, Arlington, Steele Morgan, Snohomish
If there is one quality that is universal among all good point guards it’s leadership.
“Hopefully you have some skills and stuff, but I think — and maybe I’m biased because I wasn’t very good — one of their main roles is just getting the team into the right offenses and defenses and making sure everyone is in the right spot,” said Meadowdale’s Streit, a former point guard. “If you do that more times than your opponent in the game, I think you’re going to be in a really good chance for success.”
Leadership comes in a lot of different packages. Some players are vocal leaders, others lead by example, but all of the coaches seem to agree leadership has to be there in order for a team to achieve success and the most likely place to find it is from the point guard.
Mount Vernon’s challenge coming into the season was playing without a true point guard. Bulldogs head coach Vic Wolffis said it quickly made him grateful for what he’d had in the past.
“You realize how critical it is and what you’ve had in years past when you’ve had strong point guards,” he said. “That’s the first thing that kind of hits you. The role of point guard has to be filled somehow. Somebody has to take the lead.”
Wolffis tried three different players at point guard before finally making senior Robert Monroe, who’s natural position is off guard, the team’s floor general.
“I think it’s crucial that you have leadership that can handle the ball on the court,” Wolffis said. “If that’s a true point guard or it’s two or three other guards that kind of share the responsibility, it’s got to happen. Our kid has taken on that role and he’s done a great job growing the past few games. I think he’ll be fine down the stretch.”
“As a point guard you have to be determined to get your team to be playing as it should and be willing to do whatever that means — sometimes it’s being quiet and sometimes it’s being vocal and being able to push through situations that aren’t going your way. I think most quality point guards are determined to try to make things work and be a coach on the floor. “ — Len Bone, Snohomish head coach
Few local players who fit the mold: Steele Morgan, Snohomish, Conin Oishi, Shorecrest, Barrett Carlow, Meadowdale, Nathen Grimm, Marysville Getchell
It’s hard not to be hard-nosed and determined with a name like Steele, and Snohomish’s Steele Morgan is one of the most determined point guards in Wesco.
Two seasons ago, behind then-senior Luke Hamlin, the Panthers were one of the best teams in the area and went on to challenge Jackson in the district championship game. Last season wasn’t as kind to the Panthers, who finished 7-13 and missed the postseason.
Morgan doesn’t want his team to suffer a similar fate in his senior campaign and the Panthers will need his grittiness to ensure it doesn’t.
“He would like to be thought of as being one of the best point guards in the league,” Bone said. “I think he’s determined to be more consistent. His standard for himself is really high and his standard for our team is really high. He’s just a fighter.”
The Panthers have had their ups-and-downs to start the season, but 20-plus point victories over Lake Stevens and 2A perennial power Mark Morris are reason for Snohomish fans to be optimistic.
A squad packed with potential, the Panthers are likely to go as far as Morgan takes them. It’s a process, but he continues to mature and improve.
“I think Steele is still trying to sort out when do I look score and when do I look to organize and get it to somebody else? When do I look to reset things and communicate that to the other guys?” Bone said. “And then defensively, how do I be a leader at that end along with being a leader at the offensive end?”
Part of determination for Morgan or any other point guard, is the ability to quickly move on from a mistake.
“Everyone is different, but point guards first need to be confident,” Hunter said. “They have to have the ability to turn the page quickly and they have to have the ability to keep their teammates in the right state of mind to be competitive.”
With all the pressures involved, finding a confident, determined point guard can be a challenge.
Whether he just turned the ball over or he’s playing in a white-knucker in packed gymnasium, a point guard needs to keep his cool.
“When I was 17,” Stanwood head coach Zach Ward said, “I’m not sure if I could have done that.”
“The notion that the point guard is the extension of the coach, the floor-general, or whatever tag you want to give the point guard, so often people are talking about offense. It’s not as advertised or as publicized because people don’t like to play defense as much, so they don’t talk about it. Defense is still half the game. It’s 50 percent of the game that’s forgotten about.” — Zach Ward, Stanwood head coach
Few local players who fit the mold: Josh Thayer, Stanwood, Bryce Juneau, Marysville Pilchuck, Anxhelos Pere, Shorewood, Kaleb Bryson, Arlington
Young point guards players often grow up thinking their only responsibility is to orchestrate the offense.
Stanwood’s Josh Thayer is an exception.
“Josh runs our defense,” Ward said. “It’s not as advertised or as publicized because people don’t like to play defense, so they don’t talk about it. He loves to play defense.”
Thayer isn’t alone, Senior guard Brady Garcea is also capable of giving opposing ball-handlers fits. Thayer and Garcea’s willingness to commit to defense and work well together are a big reason the Spartans are off to a 10-0start.
“Both those guys work together well as seniors,” Ward said. “They have a really good understanding of how we do things — and they’re passing that message along. That makes my job a lot easier.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.