PENDLETON — Assistant coach Bill Zyph stood cross-armed under the basket at one end of Mosby Court watching the Blue Mountain Community College men’s basketball team work through passing drills and break-away tactics. Every few moments, the coach would shout a word or two of commands, but the Timberwolves flowed through the motions of a practice without needing much direction.
Zyph and the players were waiting for head coach Larry Bartee to arrive before practice would officially commence, but the Timberwolves broke into spontaneous drills to pass the time. By the time Bartee opened the door to the McCrae Center 15 minutes later, several players had already worked up a sweat.
“The sophomores have really taken to their leadership roles and really have helped push things already,” said Bartee, now in his 31st year as coach of the team. “They come to practice and they go ahead and set it all up and do things. They’re really motivated. They really want to win after last year, after getting that close.”
Six sophomores return from that team, including a pair of starters in guard Jordan Johnson and forward Kyle Davis. That core of experience is determined to end this season without the heartbreak.
“I can’t stand the thought of losing one last game that could have taken us to the NWAACC (tournament),” said Davis, a 6-foot-6 Las Vegas native. “It’s frustrating to be on the losing end of that ... That takes me and pushes me to a higher level every day.”
Davis is a calming force for the team, according to Bartee, and will help keep the Timberwolves’ vehicle on the road this season. He and a trio of other sophomores — guard Gavin Burt and forwards Sam Hermann and Ryan Strand — will tentatively make up four-fifths of the starting rotation, Bartee said. The fifth spot has been won by freshman Tyler Adams, at least for the time being.
Adams comes to the team from Barrow, Alaska, and will be a ball-handling guard for the Timberwolves. He provides the dangerous 3-point shooting asset.
“He’s just a real great shooter,” Bartee said. “He’s probably as good of a pure shooter as I’ve ever had.”
Four Timberwolves measure 6 foot 5 inches or better, but the team lacks a true center. With the 6-foot-9 Tavin Hurley moved on to a four-year school in Humboldt State this season, Blue Mountain will have to compensate by shooting the ball better from the outside, Bartee said. The team’s physicality must elevate for success to come in the rebounding game.
After winning a preseason game 73-70 from Portland Community College last Friday, the Timberwolves are continuing practice for the next two weeks in preparation for a matchup with Grays Harbor. Blue Mountain will break its fast on Dec. 2 at home.