Jackson emphasizing speed

  • David Pan<br>Enterprise sports editor
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 10:51am

MILL CREEK — The Jackson boys basketball team plans to play to its strength.

As a consequence, the Timberwolves have adopted a different philosophy from a year ago when much of the offensive focus was on their inside game.

A strong returning group of experienced guards means that Jackson plans to run, run and run.

It’s a welcome change for senior guard Kevin Simshauser.

“Last year we were more oriented on getting (the ball) into the post but this year it’s more run and gun,” Simshauser said. “For me personally, it’s more fun and I know for the other guys, it’s probably more fun too.”

Wolfpack coach Steve Johnson, however, didn’t make the change based on what he thought would be more fun for his players.

The graduation of the team’s leading scorer Corey Hall and stalwart inside player Johnie Kirton coupled with the return of Simshauser, junior guard Drew Eisinger, senior guard Jang Sohn and senior guard/forward David Musgrave dictated that Johnson would do some tinkering with his team.

“We recognized that we need to play a little bit of a faster pace,” Johnson said. “Obviously, we’re not the biggest team in the world. Our strength is our perimeter play, our guard play, and to take advantage of that we feel that defensively and offensively we need to push the tempo and control the tempo.”

The success of Jackson’s new philosophy is dependent on at least a couple of factors — conditioning and depth.

The former was a top priority during the offseason and in practices the last two weeks.

“Conditioning has been a big emphasis for us because we have to be in better shape than anyone,” Simshauser said. “If we want to press and fastbreak we’re going to have be in good shape. I think the kids came (to tryouts) in decent shape, but we’ve gotten in better shape as we’ve gone on.”

The increased pace also means that the bench will play an important role.

The Timberwolves have the players they’ll need to make everything work, according to Johnson.

“We’re going to play a lot of guys,” he said. “I think we do have the nine, 10, 11, whatever it turns out to be. Ultimately good athletes that can help us play at a faster tempo.”

One individual who has made quite an impression on Johnson and his teammates is Rory Wilson, a 6-foot-6 senior center, who is the team’s tallest player.

Wilson has stepped up his level of play during the summer league and in practice and Johnson has the utmost confidence he’ll be able to excel this season.

“He’s got to prove that he can do it at the varsity level,” Johnson said. “I think he can. He plays hard. He can give us some rebounding and interior defense.”

Junior forward Mike Santoro (6-3) is another inside player expected to log significant minutes. Football standout Jake Gelakoska, one of three sophomores on the varsity roster, also will use his 6-3 frame to shore up Jackson’s inside presence.

Despite having one 6-6 and two 6-3 players, Jackson likely is going to be outsized by many teams.

“Obviously height is an advantage in basketball but that being said, there’re a lot of good teams out there that emphasize guard play and (are) successful as result of their guards,” Johnson said. “I think we have a chance to be that type of team.”

When Jackson faces taller teams, every player is going to have to pitch in, especially on defense and the Timberwolves are going to have to be very aware of how they use their fouls, Johnson said.

“(We) have to play good position defense. We’re going to have to double the posts a little bit,” Johnson said. “We have to guard the posts with a team approach as opposed to expecting one guy to slug it out.”

In the end, Jackson’s success will depend on how it executes its running game.

“We’re a lot smaller than past years, so we’re going to be looking to push the ball,” Sohn said. “I think we’re quicker than most teams.”

Though many of the players are making their varsity debut Eisinger has confidence in them.

“We have a lot of new guys but they’re tough players,” Eisinger said.

Both Simshauser and Eisinger expect to assume more of the scoring load this season. In addition to playing point guard, Simshauser will see time at the off-guard position, which is something new for him.

“I’m going to have to score a little bit more than last year,” Simshauser said.

When Simshauser shifts positions, the point guard duties then will be shared by Sohn and Eisinger’s younger brother Jamie, a 5-10 sophomore.

Eisinger also is looking to be more of an offensive force.

“Coach wants me to be more of a shooter this year,” Eisinger said.

Johnson noted the leadership of the returning players is strong and is continuing to evolve.

“The work ethic has been very good for the most part,” Johnson said. “Our practices have been pretty crisp and pretty intense.”

Johnson sees Mountlake Terrace as the clear favorite in the Western Conference South Division with Shorewood and Meadowdale as the No. 2 and No. 3 teams.

The top four teams advance to the playoffs and Johnson hopes the Timberwolves will be contenders for the final berth.

“I think the fourth playoff spot is pretty wide open,” Johnson said. “I think there are a lot teams, ourselves included, that can realistically compete for that.”

Simshauser expects everything to come down to desire.

“We’re all focusing more on hustle,” he said. “We know we have to play hard because we’re not going to be bigger than any team in the league. We’re going to have to play harder than everyone every night.”

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