Tyson Degenhart knows it. David Wagenblast knows it too.
If Mt. Spokane is to make another trip to the state title game – as they did last year with a senior-laden squad – they will most likely find a familiar face waiting for them once again.
But it’s not just the Wildcats’ predicament. Every team in 3A is on the lookout for O’Dea and Paolo Banchero.
“(Degenhart) is arguably the best player every game we play,” Wagenblast said. “Except for when we play O’Dea. And there’s no shame in saying that because that kid’s probably gonna play in the NBA for 10 years.”
In last year’s State 3A title game, Banchero scored 20 points in the Fighting Irish’s 70-39 win over the Wildcats. Degenhart led the Cats with 14 points and eight boards.
“Playing against (O’Dea) last year left a salty taste in our mouth,” Degenhart admitted. “I think we’re coming back very motivated.”
Wagenblast knows advancing at state is no easy feat.
“I think you’d always love to get an opportunity to play against the best,” he said. “And so we always talk to the kids about a level expectation and trying to get better every day. And with that there’s an end in sight, and that is getting back to the (Tacoma) Dome.
“And then when you get to the Dome, you’ve got to have a player like Tyson who can win you a game or two. And then everything has to come together to beat Rainier Beach, to beat O’Dea. This year with Brandon Roy back, it’s Garfield as well.”
“I think it’s always something to look forward to,” Degenhart said of facing off against Banchero. “I enjoy playing against him. It’s always a tough task, but I’m always up for the task.”
But he cautioned against penciling the Wildcats into the title game again.
“I don’t think we can get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “We’re gonna have some ups and downs, but we just have to keep at it one game at a time.”
The Wildcats have their work cut out for them. They lost four starters and eight letter winners to graduation off the state runner-up team (25-2, 11-1).
“This is a brand new team,” Wagenblast said. “I think to keep it fair to this year’s team is to say, ‘Hey, last year’s team – that was that group of guys,’
“Last year’s team will always be so special as that was just a special combination of everything going right. And then enjoying an incredible ride.”
Wagenblast, entering his fifth season with Mt. Spokane, has a pretty good player to start with.
“Tyson is unselfish, works so hard in the offseason and really just wants to win,” he said.
Degenhart, a junior, has already committed to play at Boise State.
“They laid out what they saw for me, and I felt like I fit their system really well and they saw me playing as a freshman. That’s one of the big things I was looking for.
“It felt right to me. That was the biggest thing. And you know, when it feels right, why wait for it?”
It’s a luxury for Degenhart to not have to worry about the recruiting process the next two seasons.
“It’s a lot of pressure relieved because, you know, working for a scholarship, you have to stay healthy and all of that,” he added. “But now I know where I’m going. I can just play my game and be a high school kid.”
Wagenblast is inspired by his new players, who remember well that terrific run Mt. Spokane had last season – winning the District 8 title, then knocking off Capital and Rainier Beach in the state tourney before running into Banchero, the national No. 4 prospect in his graduation class who is being recruited by North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky among many others.
“These kids have really bought in over the summer with regards to just that level of expectation. They want what last year’s group was able to achieve,” Wagenblast said. “They’re hoping that we can achieve the same kind of success.”
In addition to Degenhart, Wagenblast has two other returning letter winners: junior guard JoJo Anderson and senior guard Mitch Stengle.
“Anderson, I see him as one of the top guards in the league,” Wagenblast said. “And I see Mitch Stengle being a real impact player this year.
“(Stengle) can really play defense and has an opportunity to score. Last year he was behind a couple of guys and he wasn’t able to see the floor. But he can really play. And so I’m excited for Mitch going into his senior year.”
Those “couple of guys” were all-league guards JT Smith and Jerry Twenge, both of whom shot over 44% from the 3-point line last year.
“We’re losing a lot,” Wagenblast admitted, also mentioning forward Tanner Brooks (Idaho football) and wing Spencer Barrera (Idaho track). “But to compare these kids… they’re different and in some respects we’re better.”
Degenhart, who set team records for points per game (19.3), total points (502) and shooting percentage (62%) as a sophomore, is looking forward to the transition as well.
“Getting some of the younger guys to see the speed we play at is the big thing, because the jump from JV to varsity is pretty significant.
“We’ll have to bring them up to speed but I think we’ll be fine as the season goes on.”
Alphabetic order, last year’s record.
North Central (9-13, 5-7): Coach Jase Wambold returns for his seventh season missing all five starters from the previous campaign. “With last season’s eight seniors playing the majority of all varsity minutes, this year’s group will be young, but all high-character, hard-working kids who deeply care about our basketball program,” he said. There are two seniors: 5-foot-6 guard Bishal Mongar and 5-10 guard Silas Elison, while the roster is filled out with five sophomores.
Rogers (4-17, 1-11): The Pirates graduated four starters and seven letter winners. Second-year coach Karim Scott has two seniors he’ll lean upon: three-year starter 6-5 forward Evan Nomee and guard Riley Funnemark. “We are going to have an issue with our lack of size,” Scott admits. “But we have plenty of speed and quickness to apply pressure on the ball and in full-court situations. We think as long as we stay out of foul trouble and our players continue to improve during the season we will have a chance to be competitive.”
Shadle Park (15-11, 4-8): Second-year coach Arnold Brown was hit hard by graduation as well. He lost five starters and eight letter winners. “Our team will be very young this season,” he said. “We need to get seasoned and stronger throughout the season.” Senior guard Denham Kerr and junior guard Logan Doyle will be leaned on for leadership and minutes.