Defend, rebound, attack, execute.
Four simple words but for Sandpoint boys basketball head coach Wade Engelson these words are what defines his program.
In his second year with the Bulldogs, Engelson is establishing a culture built on work ethic. One that demands putting in the time to achieve the results you want to see.
It’s early, but so far the Bulldogs are looking like a team ready to make some noise after a 7-12 campaign last year.
“We always say that successful teams or programs are successful for certain reasons,” Engelson said, “and unsuccessful teams are unsuccessful for certain reasons and what we did and what we started to do is what I call commitment.”
And that commitment has paid off on the basketball court. The Bulldogs spent the spring and summer competing in a handful of tournaments including the West Valley Summer League, where they made it to the semifinals with a 6-6 record.
Engelson said he has seen the impact of that experience in the first few weeks of practice.
“At this point we’re way ahead of where we were at this point last year,” he said.
Junior Darren Bailey said the summer league helped bring the team closer together.
“You could see that in the games we played over the summer,” he said. “We started beating teams by like 20 points. I feel like this year there will be more chemistry because everyone has already jelled.”
Engelson arrived in Sandpoint after spending eight years as an assistant coach at Post Falls. He brought an up-tempo full-court press playing style with him and if you walk into practice at Les Rogers Court on any given day you can see it on full display.
Back and forth they go like the players are competing in a track meet, only this one’s on the basketball court.
The energy is evident and that’s just the way that Engelson wants it to be.
“That’s a fun style of basketball to play as a player, it’s a fun style of basketball to watch,” Engelson said. “We’re not going to play any game where we walk the ball up the court and play slow if we’re playing a good team so we can keep the margin within 20 points. We’re going to walk in the gym and sit there and say ‘we’re here to play, we’re going to do everything we can to beat you.’”
The style suits the Bulldogs who have an arsenal of quick, shifty players who lack size but make up for it with their athleticism.
Bailey said at first it was a challenge getting used to pushing the pace all the time but the Bulldogs have grown to embrace it.
“Now its more fun because when your playing up-tempo and everybody on the team is playing up-tempo with you, then you’re getting all these steals and everybody’s happy,” Bailey said.
“I think if your aggressive it helps show the other teams’ weak spots,” senior Ryan Roos added.
For senior point guard Kobe Banks, the style allows him to do what he enjoys — getting the ball to his teammates.
As someone who isn’t afraid to attack the rim, Banks willingness to drive toward the basket draws double teams from opponents, giving him the opportunity to make passes to wide open teammates. And he isn’t afraid to shoot the ball either.
Banks joined the Bulldogs last season after attending Clark Fork High School as a freshman and sophomore and had an immediate impact, earning the Inland Empire League Newcomer of the Year award.
With a full year at Sandpoint under his belt, Banks is poised to have a league MVP caliber season in his final year of high school basketball.
“I would love to put a state championship on that banner,” he said.
Last season, Banks said he felt the pressure that comes with playing the point guard position, but this year he is free of any nerves.
“This year I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I’m just grateful to be playing basketball.”
The Bulldogs will lean on the experience of their six seniors to hopefully break a three year streak of failing to win a regular season league game. Sandpoint’s seniors will also have to try and show three freshmen the ropes and Roos said they can do that by supporting them.
“I think they have to learn themselves but I think we can push them and make them learn faster,” he said.
Bailey said he wants to get the new players adjusted to competing at the high school level.
“It’s a big step up going from being an eighth grader to playing varsity basketball as a freshman,” he said. “In eighth grade, you’re the dominant athlete but when you come up on varsity, everyone else is bigger and stronger than you so you definitely have to get used to that.”
To get ready for the upcoming season, the Bulldogs will take part in a jamboree today with Post Falls and Lake City.
Post Falls is one of the best 5A teams in the state and a dominant program that Engelson looks up to and hopes to build in Sandpoint.
Engelson said it will be fun going back to Post Falls and seeing some of his friends, but this jamboree isn’t about him, it’s about improving his team.
“I look at this way, if you want to be good you got to play the good teams, you have to play the best teams you can compete with and that’s going to make us get better,” he said. “Our guys can compete in my belief. Our guys showed it over the summer, we can compete with a lot of really good programs. We have some outstanding athletes here.”
Bailey said the jamboree will give the team a self check of where they are and help them build even more confidence heading into the season.
“I’m really eager because of how many steps we made over the summer to become a better team,” he said.
Engelson said the Bulldogs are solely focused on one goal this season — winning the league title.
If they accomplish that objective, then Sandpoint will shift their attention to claiming a district title and a state championship, but Engelson wants his team to take it one goal at a time.
“We’re going to shoot for them,” Engelson said about the team’s goals. “We’re not going to hope that we finish third place or second place, we’re going for it.
“You can’t accomplish anything unless you believe it ... Our guys have belief and their combining it with the work ethic.”
Regardless of the team’s record this season, Engelson said fans won’t see a lack of effort from the Bulldogs.
“We’re still rough around the edges in some stuff,” he said. “It’s not always going to be pretty but I’ll tell you what, even if it’s not pretty, you’re going to see our guys playing very, very hard.”
Sandpoint opens the regular season at St. Maries on Thursday, Dec. 5.