The one thing you won’t be able to say about Aberdeen’s boys basketball team after this season is that it wasn’t tested early and often.
Utilizing a non-league schedule to build up the varsity squad in order to prepare for a tough Evergreen 2A campaign, the Bobcats will know who they are early. The process begins Monday at Sam Benn Gym against Class 4A Spanaway Lake.
Aberdeen (2-10, 7-13) returns three starting players from last year’s squad and second-year head coach Leonard Barnes is expecting big things from those three and the rest of the team this year.
“We have a cast of new guys who are very exciting to watch and have a lot of potential,” Barnes said. “We’ll see how they mesh together. We’re trying to figure it out. We’re still trying to see where our strengths are. We’re in that mode right now.”
So, there is a method to this non-league madness. Out of its six non-league games, Aberdeen will be on the road for four of them and will take on two Class 4A schools, a Class 3A squad and two rival Class 1A teams.
Beginning with Spanaway Lake, the Bobcats will face rival Hoquiam in a home-and-home series, travel to Prairie and Elma in a span of three days and break away from the league schedule at the end of the year with a trip to Shelton.
“This is a tough non-league schedule,” Barnes said. “We’re playing it to get ready for our league. All of those teams are very tough, with great programs and talented athletes. It will be a challenge. It is interesting about kids. You can get kids to elevate their game by elevating the bar. We’re playing teams that are very tough and, in turn, we’ll get tough.
“I think anyone who has watched this year (last year) and watched the teams that I’ve coached (in the past) know that we’re going to run, we’re going to fight and we’re going to scrap for everything we get,” Barnes added. “Nothing will be given to us. We have to go out there and earn it.”
Led by three returning starters — seniors Charlie Dietrich, Collin Nord and Zack Ball — the Bobcats have a good nucleus of experience back on the court. Nord and Ball were primarily post players, with Dietrich spending time as a guard and a wing, last season.
Aberdeen is stocked full of ball-handlers and wings this time around, with some height to set up the posts.
With Nord at 6-foot-5 and Ball at 6-4, Aberdeen will have some depth with juniors Aaron Taylor (6-1) and Kaleb Levao (6-3) moving in to help.
Junior Veek Cheema (6-1), the Bobcats’ quarterback on the football team, will be joined by Titus Phillips (5-9) and Deon Schlesser (6-0) as guards/wings. Seniors Dietrich (5-10), Reilly Fairchild (6-0), Devan Harke (5-9) and Ashton Williamson (6-0) will add experience to the guards/wing corps.
“The kids are working incredibly hard and I couldn’t ask them to work any harder than they are right now — from the C Squaders to the varsity,” Barnes said.
In the Evergreen 2A, Barnes sees Aberdeen as a team in a fight with a loaded group of teams, led by River Ridge.
“We play in a tough league — three of the teams played in the state tournament past year,” Barnes added. “We also have Capital back in the league as well. Everything will run through River Ridge until they are beaten. You have to give them the credit they deserve.”
Assisting Barnes this season will be Brandon Barnes (JV) and Nick Bamer (C squad), Brian Shay, Aaron Cleverly and Mark Buckman.