Retooled Jackson cautiously optimistic

  • David Pan<br>Enterprise sports editor
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 9:45am

MILL CREEK — The Jackson boys basketball team heads into the 2003-04 season with a number of unanswered questions.

One of the major issues occupying coach Steve Johnson’s time deals with the Wolfpack offense and which players are going to provide the points.

Jackson lost a ton of offensive firepower with the graduation of three players who consistently scored in double figures.

“Until you start the season, obviously that’ll be a question mark,” Johnson said. “Will we have the people step up that can score? I do feel pretty confident that we’ve got a lot of guys that are capable of stepping up and filling the void. At least on paper to start the season, there is some inexperience there.”

While much of last year’s offense came via the outside shooting of graduates Chris Keller and Craig Chambers, look for this year’s team to go inside to its two most experienced players — seniors Corey Hall and Johnie Kirton.

The two saw plenty of action last season and give Jackson a solid inside presence.

“Coach Johnson has definitely emphasized that one of our strengths is going to be inside this year,” Hall said. “So we’ve definitely been working on making that one of our main focuses of our offense.”

Jackson should match up well inside against just about any team in the Western Conference 4A South Division.

“I actually think we’ll be one of the bigger teams,” Johnson said. “Johnie and Corey are experienced. We do have a couple of other kids that come off the bench and provide some size. I think we’ll be as big or just as burly as anybody else.”

One question that Johnson hopes has been pretty much settled is at point guard where the Timberwolves return junior Kevin Simshauser.

A year ago in Johnson’s debut as head coach, the Wolfpack started the season without a returning point guard. Simshauser emerged as the frontrunner and is a returning starter.

Hall is glad the Timberwolves aren’t facing any uncertainty at point guard.

“It’s definitely nice to have Kevin returning after last year,” he said. “It’s hard to come in your first year and be expected to produce and not make mistakes. He’s definitely improved a lot over the summer. We’re looking at big things from him.”

Such as some outside shooting.

“We would ask him to not only be our point guard, but he’s probably going to have to step up and score a little bit more,” Johnson said of Simshauser. “He’s definitely one of the people we’re looking to come out and do what he did last year and also take it a little bit forward.”

The inside game may be the focal point of the offense, but the Timberwolves are still looking to have contributions from the outside too, Hall said.

Where those points are going to come from is yet to be determined and that’s fine with Johnson, who said he has a good pool of talent from which to draw upon.

Jackson’s junior varsity team went 16-4 last season and many of those players will be competing for varsity playing time.

Lake Stevens transfer Cedric Collins, sophomore Drew Eisinger and junior Richie Tri should figure into the mix.

“There’s a lot of time to be earned,” Johnson said. “But that’s a good thing. We have good competition and a lot to choose from. It’s going to be tough to determine who deserves to play, but I’d rather have that problem than be sitting going, ‘Geez, I don’t have anybody to play.’”

Jackson has the talent to compete with any team in the league but whether that talent will translate into a district playoff berth is uncertain.

“We certainly are capable of finishing above anybody,” Johnson said. “We could finish behind anybody. We could be anywhere from first to seventh among the seven 4A teams … we’re not head and shoulders above anybody by any stretch of the imagination, but by the same token I think we can line up and play with anybody.”

Last year the Timberwolves came tantalizingly close to advancing to state, falling to division rival Mountlake Terrace in a winner-to-state/loser-out district playoff game.

The loss taught Simshauser what he and his teammates need to do to be successful.

“We actually know how much harder we have to work now and how important this time of the year is to get ready for that,” Simshauser said. “You can’t just start getting ready in the middle of the season. You’ve got to start now.”

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