Back in the day, Amity, Dayton, and Western Christian (Western Mennonite at that time) had a “tobacco road”-style triangular rivalry in the old West Valley League. Seeing these teams duke it out in a non-jamboree setting for the first time in a long time should be the headline, but there is much, much more to go over.
Here are some takeaways. First, the Pioneers:
- Gary Hull has some players. There is enough talent on this roster, even without starting point guard Ty Vanderhoof, to make a run at Pendleton. Center Austin Sladek, just a junior, is a phenomenal basketball talent. He has tremendous vision, is fearless driving through the lane cutting through traffic, and uses an array of post moves that few at the 2A level can rival. If the formula for winning a state title at the small school level can be one star and a plethora of solid role players complemented by an A+ head coach, Western fits the bill.
- The only problem with Western, at least that is evident, is streakiness defensively possibly caused by inexperience. Part of this also could be Amity’s incredible offensive prowess on the perimeter making it look like a bigger problem than it actually is, but it is nonetheless something to watch for. Seemingly coming out of every timeout, during which Coach Hull could use some choice words, Western picked up defensively.
- At this point, it really is just a wait-and-see situation for the Pioneers. They are tier-1, but where they stand in the pecking order is undetermined.
Now for the Warriors:
- First and foremost, the injury to Landen Distler is the biggest headline coming out of this game. Suffered in the middle of the first quarter, the apparent knee injury could have ramifications on the landscape of 3A Basketball. Rarely can an injury to one player shake up the power structure of an entire classification, but Distler in many ways was the defensive linchpin for Amity last season. His versatility to defend 1-5 on the floor would’ve put him on the first-team all-state defensive roster for 3A in 2020 had such a thing existed. This isn’t Zach Baugher in 2019 or Josh Baugher in 2020, but what comes next for Amity and their rotation will have a significant impact on what transpires in the next few weeks in 3A as a whole if the injury is serious. Western’s players lead a prayer around Distler, which Amity joined [headline picture].
- With that said, Amity has a lot to look at and be happy about tonight. Despite the absence of Josh Wart, who is missing due to a priorly scheduled engagement, the Warriors not only met expectations but exceeded them. The offensive versatility of the roster is at a level not seen since 2015-16, and defensively, despite the departure of Landen Distler, this might be the most solid Amity roster in a decade. It speaks volumes about their toughness that they stifled a Gary Hull-coached offense for so much of the game, which leads into the night’s biggest star.
- Welcome to the spotlight, Issac Watcherson. While last year he was a sniper on the perimeter but not necessarily a lockdown defender, tonight Watcherson flexed a newfound prowess not only in on-ball defense but in playing the passing lanes off-ball, rebounding in traffic, and flat-out owning his matchup for stretches of the game. Multiple fastbreaks were spurned by his tipped passes, steals, and contested shots. His ability to rise and fire on offense, often in the face of smothering Pioneer defense, was incredibly impressive. Watcherson’s development as a third weapon to complement Keenan Graham and Josh Wart could be the missing piece Amity’s been looking for.
- If Amity clicks, their biggest hurdle in some matchups might not be their opponent, but the heat in their home gym. The Warrior’s ceiling could truly be at a championship level; possibly even at front-runner level. Right now, the two best teams in the state may both reside in the PacWest conference. We should know for sure by the end of next week.
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