EAST WENATCHEE — The group of seniors on the Eastmont boys basketball team has had the 2012-13 season circled on their calendars ever since they started playing together in grade school AAU. But now that the season has arrived, something is different — namely, the size of the class.
The group of touted seniors shrunk from 10 to five when half of the players decided not to turn out in early November, leaving plenty of opportunity around the Wildcats’ top senior trio of guards Trea Thomas and J.J. Jahr and guard/forward Dalin McDonnell.
“That group that everybody has been talking about since fifth grade AAU has somewhat disappeared,” said Eastmont coach Mike Waters. “The flip side of it is we have a group of underclassmen that are hungry. In practices it’s just been a battle.”
The pace is being set by the remaining five seniors, which also include forward Jeremy Adams and guard David Wright, all of which have at least a full season of varsity experience.
“All the seniors can run everything with their eyes closed, in their sleep,” Waters said.
As has been the case since he stepped foot on campus as a freshman, the team will be led on and off the court by first team all-leaguer and third-year captain Thomas, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound dynamo at point guard who led the Big Nine with 21.3 points per game last year.
“Trea is the best guard in the league, and he’s going to have a fabulous season,” Waters said. “He knows the program better than anybody, and he wants to win as much as much as anybody.”
McDonnell and Jahr are both offensive weapons that should keep teams from focusing too much of their defensive schemes on Thomas.
“Dalin and J.J. are stronger than ever, both up 10 pounds of muscle from last year,” Waters said. “I don’t anticipate those guys getting bumped around.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Jahr has developed a consistent mid-range jumper, and has turned himself into a strong defender.
“Scoring-wise, J.J. is smart. He knows what his best shot for us is,” Waters said. “And he’s one of our best defenders. He gets more defensive tips than anybody.”
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound McDonnell will be expected to spend some time in the paint for the perennially height-challenged Wildcats — only three players on the roster reach 6-foot-3, and none have previous varsity experience.
“Dalin is no stranger to the paint; he can go inside/outside. Is he undersized? Yeah, but he’s a relentless player,” Waters said.
A couple of athletic junior transfers will slide right into spots left vacant by the senior class — Connor Trevino (Cascade-Leavenworth) and Killion McGinnis (Wenatchee), the son of former Eastmont High player and Wenatchee boys basketball head coach Brett McGinnis.
“Trevino bounced around (at Waterville and Cascade), but we’re glad he landed here. He’s very athletic, very savvy and has great instincts,” Waters said. “And of course Killion is a fantastic athlete — you saw that in football, and his 6-foot-5 high jump is very helpful on the basketball court. He rebounds very well and knows the game very well.”
Adams, a scrappy 6-foot-2, 190-pound forward, is the front-runner for the fourth starting spot, but the fifth spot will usually be a game-time decision.
Wright, a 5-foot-5 guard, is recovering from a recent knee injury and likely won’t join the team until midseason.
To make up for their lack of size, Waters plans to turn up the heat on the Wildcats’ already breakneck pace on both offense and defense.
“The philosophy this year is a little different. We’re gonna play all 84 feet on defense, and to play that style is tough on an athlete’s cardio,” Waters said. “The kids on the bench know they’re going to go in. This style is a rotating style. I feel the younger kids can go in and contribute, and it keeps the practices lively and competitive.”
If all goes as planned, Waters thinks the Wildcats will see themselves going to toe-to-toe with cross-river rival Wenatchee for the Big Nine title. He doesn’t discount anybody else in the league, however.
“Davis is young but athletic, and Eisenhower will be full of football kids so they’ll be physical,” he said. “We’ve been telling these guys, ‘You can’t expect to play anybody at a level lower than our best and win.’ ”
But with three returning starters and the league’s best guard on their roster, the Wildcats are walking into the season with a swagger.
“I’d venture to say we have a target on us,” Waters said, “and I like that.”