Still riding high from an outstanding football season, Wood River High School has high hopes for one of its athletic programs that has struggled mightily in recent years. That is boys' basketball.
Wood River hasn't enjoyed a winning season on the basketball court since 1992, nearly a generation. The Wolverine boys (0-21 last season) have lost 36 of their last 37 games, and are 0-19 at home since 2009.
That kind of history hasn't prevented first-year head coach Rick Bradshaw from grabbing the bull by the horns and injecting new excitement into a Hailey hoops program that used to be the school's pride and joy, 25 to 30 years back in the days of coaches Trenkle, Gillett, Richel and Cook.
Bradshaw, the first Wood River alumnus in 45 years of Wolverine basketball to assume the head varsity coaching job, knows firsthand because he was a big part of the success.
He was a starting forward, a relentless rebounder and double-digit scorer on coach Dick Richel's 1988 WRHS squad (19-7) starring A-2 Player of the Year Brad Jaques. It placed fourth at the state tournament.
Bradshaw knows what turns on Hailey hoops fans—defense.
He said, "One of the things about Wood River basketball going way back is our success on the defensive end—getting in people's faces and not sitting back. Our crowds like to see the kids work hard and we'll do that. I'm excited about our enthusiasm and work ethic."
Assisted by high school BASE para-professional Chris Koch, who is also Bellevue's mayor, new coach Bradshaw is revved up about the dramatic improvement in the turnout of boys for Wood River basketball.
Bradshaw said, "We started out this year with a total of 53 boys for all three teams. In recent years we've barely broken 30 to 33 for all three teams, and we had only nine on varsity last year. This year we have 12 on varsity, 12 on junior varsity and 12 on the freshmen team. And we have a really strong staff of six coaches."
The new coach added, "When you get this kind of turnout, you get your athletes out—kids who have the rough skills and just need structure. You develop those skills so they become better players and you have a better team. At the 4A level, we play against the cream of the crop from the other schools, so we need many of our top athletes playing, too.
"I know the success of our football program has done a great deal in preparing us for basketball season. We'll take it a game at a time. Ultimately the goal of our season is to make it to the state tournament."
Since being promoted from varsity assistant last spring to replace head coach John Radford, Bradshaw reached into the pool of middle school and elementary school athletes for potential basketball recruits.
Bradshaw said, "I tried to create an excitement and buzz at those levels, getting them to play spring and summer ball and letting the younger kids know that we were interested in them as players—that we're looking hard at them."
Hailey hoops fans will have three pre-Christmas chances to see Bradshaw's new Wolverine brand of basketball at home, starting Friday, Dec. 2 when Wood River hosts Filer. The Wolverines debut their 19-game season today, Wednesday with non-league games at Kimberly.
"We're going to bring up the level of our defense. That's our focus," said Bradshaw about a program that was outscored on the average 56-33 last winter. "We're not quite a super threat on offense yet, so we'll try to battle hard on the defensive end. We'll push the ball with full- and half-court pressure, and try to speed up the game."
Certainly Wood River has a legitimate offensive threat in 6-3 senior guard Stone Sutton. For two straight seasons Sutton (13.5 ppg last winter) has led Wood River in scoring and has 445 career points (9.7 ppg) with 50 3-pointers in 46 games since his freshman season.
"Stone is our most versatile player. I see him in every position on the floor and as a perimeter threat," said Bradshaw.
Many times, Sutton had to shoulder a load on offense. He brought the ball up, rebounded and battled through close defensive attention to get his shot. Bradshaw said he hopes senior point guards Austin Hafer and Braxton Parish can handle the ball and keep Sutton "on the move" to operate effectively as a shooting guard.
In the paint, 6-3 senior center Pedro Contreras will build upon the promise he showed as a varsity sophomore before sitting out most of the 2010-11 campaign. "Pedro is our leading starter in the post. He has unbelievable inside skills. He's becoming more confident and physical," Bradshaw said.
Four-year varsity forward Quentin Dowdle, a 6-3 forward with 165 points in 48 games, and 6-0 junior Ben Williams are two others expected to produce up front. "Ben can be a monster on the boards," said Bradshaw. "Quentin is an inside-out player who can give us physical play inside."
Senior Jake Vegwert is a 6-0 "banger," all-around rebounder and screen setter, the coach said. Senior forward Luis Lopez has a "nose for the ball," while guard/wings like Dylan Carey, James Petzke and Colton Larkin can enter at any time "and bring up the pace of the game," he said. At 6-6, senior center Connor Braatz is the team's tallest player.
Many of the varsity players contributed to Wood River's football success this past fall.
Bradshaw then introduced a new wrinkle to the pre-season "team building" when he took the players to a November camp at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. They met fourth-year CSI head coach Steve Gosar (75-25) of Pinedale, Wyo., who guided the Golden Eagles to the school's third NJCAA tournament championship last March in Kansas.
"Coach Gosar talked about commitment and becoming a family. I know I came from a group of Wood River players that was like that, and I know coach (Mike) Payne came from a Wood River group like that," he said.
Returning junior varsity coach Payne was senior co-captain for Richel's Wood River's 17-5 team in 1982 that enjoyed a 15-game winning streak. This year, Payne will be reunited with his assistant JV coach Ed Flory. They coached The Community School boys together in the 2009-10 season.
Here is the 2011-12 roster:
Head coach, Rick Bradshaw. Assistant coach, Chris Koch.
Seniors: Braxton Parish (5-8 guard); James Petzke (6-2 forward/guard); Colton Larkin (6-0 forward/guard); Austin Hafer (5-10 guard); Luis Lopez (5-10 forward); Dylan Carey (6-3 forward/guard); Stone Sutton (6-3 guard); Pedro Contreras (6-3 center); Jake Vegwert (6-0 forward); Quentin Dowdle (6-3 forward); and Connor Braatz (6-6 center).
Junior: Ben Williams (6-0 center).
Head coach, Mike Payne. Assistant coach, Ed Flory.
Juniors: Jose Hernandez (5-11 guard); Michael Moffett (5-9 guard/forward); Edwin Garcia (5-9 guard); and Zack Freeman (6-3 center).
Sophomores: Skylar Davie (5-6 guard); Gray David (5-6 guard); Eron Bates (6-3 forward); Finn Isaacson (6-3 forward); Austin Smith (5-8 forward); Max Mauldin (6-6 center); Kevin Hernandez (6-2 forward/center); and Chase Hutchinson (6-2 forward).
Head coach, Billy Zei. Assistant coach, Andy Miles.
Players: Logan Portillo (5-3 guard); Santiago Gomez (5-8 guard); Conner Hayes (5-5 guard); Sam Burns (5-9 center); Cody Carter (5-9 guard); Hayden Thayer (5-9 forward); Jon Scott (5-11 forward); Kole Mauldin (6-1 forward); Zac Swanson (5-10 forward); Parker Bingham (6-1 center); Kyle Mungall (5-11 forward); and William Cox (6-0 center).