Ups and downs, signs of promise, and some tough losses learned — it’s all part of rebuilding a basketball program.
Behind second-year coach Adam Rodriguez, a few standout seniors and a solid core of underclassmen, Waite’s boys’ cagers are working to restore pride in a program that used to be among the more competitive in the Toledo City League.
At 5-9 overall and 1-3 in the CL, Waite is entering the stretch run of a season that has seen them win some hard-fought games, but not as many as Rodriguez would have liked.
|Waite sophomore guard, Kelvin Downer double pumps as
he drives in the Indians 66-61 loss to Clay. Clat senior
guard Kyle Row(12) is among those defending. (Photo
courtesy of Innovations Portrait Studio/Innovations
“We lost some games that I think we should’ve won, but that happens,” Rodriguez said. “We play about five sophomores (and) that comes with being inexperienced. It’s good to have some success, but I think we could play a little better. We’re going to take our lumps because we’re young, but we play hard and we have a good attitude.”
The high point came when the Indians defeated Lakota (82-66) and Emmanuel Christian (59-25) in the Warrior Classic. According to Rodriguez, it was the first holiday tournament Waite had won in years. For his efforts, Phil Darrington was named the Tournament MVP and Kelvin Downer and Alec Heslet were part of the All-Tournament Team.
“The kids were excited about winning the tournament,” Rodriguez said. “It was a well-run tournament, and it was nice to get a trophy to put in the trophy case. Our JVs won the title as well. That gives us something to look forward to.”
The Indians are led by 6-foot-4 senior forward Taywyn Mason, who averaged 19.5 points last season and recently returned from a stress fracture in his leg. Mason, who has played in six games this season, leads the team in scoring (14.8 pts.) and rebounding (8.5 reb.) and has virtually picked up where he left off last season.
“Taywyn does everything for us,” Rodriguez said. “He scored and rebounds. His second game back, he had 17 rebounds against Marion Harding. Last year, he was afraid to go inside the arc, but now he’ll go in there and rebound for us. And a lot of times we ask him to guard the other team’s post player for us. He’s smart, too. He played AAU ball and learned a lot.”
How smart are Mason and his teammates? Rodriguez credits several members of his team for class performance, notably Smith (3.6 GPA) Pratt (3.5 GPA), Heslet (3.5 GPA) and Mason (3.0 GPA), and sees it as a huge positive in terms of their mental makeup.
Rodriguez is confident that Mason, because of his versatility and extensive skills, will be playing collegiately next season. He has been contacted by a number of NCAA Division III and D-II schools that have shown interest.
Darrington, a 5-9 senior, is averaging 12.3 points, 4.2 steals and 3.1 assists at point guard.
“There have been a few games where if we didn’t have Phil, we wouldn’t have won,” Rodriguez said. “He didn’t play basketball last year (and) if we had him last year, he’d be that much better this year. He’s been great. He gets us into our offense (and) handles the ball well. He’s fearless, one of the fastest kids I’ve coached with the ball in his hands. He has really good basketball instincts.”
Joining Mason and Darrington in the starting lineup are Downer (8.2 pts., 5.3 reb.), a 5-11 sophomore guard, junior Jeremy Pratt, a 6-1 guard, while the post position is usually occupied by 6-2 senior Tony Smith or 5-11 sophomore Rico Ambriez.
The bench features 6-0 sophomore guard Eric Neal (5.8 reb.), Heslet (7.1 pts, 40 percent at 3-point field goals), a 6-1 sophomore, and Chris Johnson and Tony Smith in the post.
Rodriguez says what stands out about this group is their intelligence and willingness to put forth the effort necessary to making strides.
“We ask them to play as hard as they can and see how they measure up, and they’ve done that,” he said. “(The guys) play hard and have a good attitude. I told the guys to just relax, not to accept losing and to learn from it, and next year we have five or six kids that have a chance to play 65 to 70 varsity games in their career.”
The Indians didn’t shy away from a challenging schedule, having faced Perrysburg, Canal Winchester Harvest Prep, Central Catholic and conference foes Rogers, the Division I state runner-up, and this year’s league leader, Bowsher. Perrysburg and Central are at the top of the Northern Lakes League and Three Rivers Athletic Conference, too.
“We were down five at halftime to Perrysburg,” Rodriguez said. “We played Bowsher tough and we were tied with Rogers at halftime before we lost.”
This year in the CL, Rogers and Scott are playing well, but it’s Bowsher that has been impressive, consistently scoring over 100 points. The Rebels, who are 11-1 and 4-0 in the CL, own victories over St. John’s Jesuit and Anthony Wayne. Woodward, which went 3-18 last season, is off to a 7-5 start.
The Indians faced Rogers again over the weekend and host Sylvania Northview on Tuesday before ending the regular season with five conference games, four of which are on the road. Belegrin notes that how Waite performs in those games will determine its seeding in the league tournament.
Regardless of his team’s challenges, Rodriguez remains positive.
“The future is bright, but we have to be patient,” he said. “I tell our coaches that we have to be patient and we’ll get our chance. But it won’t come to us — we have to work for it.”