Sparks was a 57-55 double overtime loss at South Tahoe away from advancing to the 3A North regional tournament last winter.
The defeat left them at 7-16, 6-10 – just one game behind both Spring Creek and Fallon for the final two spots in the field.
Coach Dan Schreiber lost seven seniors from that team. That doesn’t mean he expects his team to bow out of contention.
“I think this group of kids can really win some games,” he said. “The key is going to be getting them to play together. Basketball is keyed on that. We definitely don’t want to develop just one kid then have everyone play around them … Hey, we have a shot.”
The Railroaders are not a big team. Schreiber joked that spectators will be able to see him in the huddle during timeouts. But they are fast, and they are deep.
Schreiber plans to play erratic, in-your-face, up-and-down basketball all four quarters every night.
“I remember as a player, I hated being pressed for 32 minutes. That’s kind of what we’re going to (do),” he said. “We’re going to lay it all out on the floor press you for 32 minutes. If you beat us, you beat us. If not, then it’s going to be fun to watch.”
The plan is for the defensive pressure to be so intense, nobody will spend more than three minutes on the floor at a time. To use such an aggressive game plan, a team needs depth, athletes and a solid conditioning program.
Sparks has all three
Schreiber plans to go 13 deep on his bench, which will keep his players fresh, and ideally wear down teams who aren’t nearly as deep off the bench.
“We have a lot of kids that are fast, a lot of athletes,” he said. “No half-court sets, just run. I’m pretty excited about it.
“We know we’re going to give up some easy layups on the other side because the amount of pressure we’re going to put on the ball … Nobody retreats, we immediately pressure the ball. A lot of double teams around half court. In the first quarter, my plan is to pretty much have every kid play.”
The Railroaders lost two of their top three scorers (Ricky Guadron and Danny Lopez) to graduation, but do bring back last year’s second-leading scorer Matt Longland (9.3 ppg).
James Bates also returns after missing last year with a torn ACL suffered in the first game of the 2015 football season.
“(He is) athletic, just a good basketball player (with a) good skill set,” Schreiber said. “(His loss) was a huge impact last year.”
He’s coming back to a different brand of basketball.
It remains to be seen if such an eccentric style of play is sustainable over the course of the season, or if it will result in wins, but one thing is certain.
It’s going to be entertaining.