BOYS BASKETBALL: Team-speed paces new-look Mustangs

Junior Charles Walker dribbles up the court during a scrimmage

Head coach Matt Tait takes over a new-look squad with 12
The prospects for a new season are endless. Anything is possible and the opportunities for success are as bountiful as a summer harvest. The best part – last season’s slate is wiped clean, leaving the sparkle and gleam of playoff aspirations.

The Gilroy High boys varsity basketball team is a metaphorical Etch A Sketch. Not only is the slate cleared, it’s a whole new slate, too – a new coach, change in philosophy and a completely different starting five.

After leading Monta Vista-Cupertino to four straight playoff appearances, Matt Tait takes over the Mustangs’ program.

Though Gilroy will feature 12 seniors on its extensive 16-man roster, six of those played on last year’s undefeated junior varsity squad with no varsity-level experience. The other six were non-starters for former varsity coach Jeremy Dirks. And with the exception of returning guard Cameron Yawary, they saw minimal action as juniors.

Yawary’s role on the 2009-10 Mustangs as the dependable sixth man increased as the season wore on. The shifty point guard poured in 16 points in GHS’s Central Coast Section playoffs first-round win against Carlmont. His presence and experience will factor into the Mustangs’ early-season progression.

“We have great depth. I just don’t know how high the peaks are just yet,” Tait said. “I have a lot of kids with zero varsity experience. But, they are pretty skilled and they know how to win and there is something to be said for that.”

The fresh-faced Mustangs took the court for a four-team scrimmage with Live Oak, Sobrato and Santa Teresa last week.

“I’m going to play a lot of kids, especially in the beginning of the season,” Tait said in between an 8-minute scrimmage with Santa Teresa, the Mustangs’ fourth and final of the night last Tuesday.

“I don’t have anybody on my team right now who I don’t feel comfortable playing, which is a great situation.”

Rotating players into the game five at a time, the Mustangs, who will lack some size inside this season, pushed the pace in each scrimmage using speed to produce a lightning-quick tempo.

“Our speed is going to give some people problems,” Tait said assessing his group.

The players have had to adjust to Tait’s style and vice versa leading to Thursday’s season opener at the Aptos Invitational.

“It’s like teaching a dog to sit its whole life and then teaching it to sit in Spanish,” Tait said. “They have been trying to do something the last three years and then I come in and teach them something different. It’s hard to break that.”

Senior Cameron Harrell, who is slated to start alongside Yawary in the Mustangs’ backcourt, said the team has really started to gel.

“It’s different, a different mentality,” Harrell said. “We are adjusting to it and picking it up. We are working really hard. We are mentally focused and on the same page.”

An area where the Mustangs will have a different look is on the defensive side of the ball. Though the rugged press defense will remain, the way it is approached will change.

“Defensively we do stuff different than the norm. I’m pretty much teaching them the opposite of what they did,” Tait said. “We are going to have to do a lot defensively to make up for our size.”

Senior Chima Ikeme will likely be the team’s starting center, leaving the two forward positions unsettled heading into Thursday’s opener.

However, Tait said a number of players are jockeying for the playing time, though a solid starting five has yet to be finalized.

“Charles Walker is playing great, Jonathan is shooting well, Ryan Valentino-Pickett is shooting well and Chris Catazaro is playing hard,” Tait said.” I’m excited. I like my kids. For as young as we are intellectually, we have some good tools. I have 16 kids and I don’t have any qualms about playing any of them.”

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