For the first time since June, the thumps of basketballs bouncing off Ron Brown Court at Centralia High School filled the gymnasium.
Last season, these sounds were coming just six months ago as the winter sports season was pushed back to May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, finally, the Tigers are practicing and preparing for a season during a normal November start time.
“Told the guys yesterday it felt good to be back in the gym in November,” Centralia coach Kyle Donahue said. “It’s nice when you walk out of the gym and it’s dark outside and 40 degrees, and not light out and 90.”
He said it feels good for the Tigers to once again be playing basketball during the traditional season, especially after having last season shortened to just six weeks.
The Tigers have a tall task ahead of them, despite losing just three seniors in Cameron Erickson, Benito Valencia and Brady Hoyt. Three juniors who would have logged varsity minutes decided not to play this year, leaving Donahue and his team a bit undermanned heading into the 2021-22 season.
Luckily, they have some key returners back, led by 6-foot-4 senior Landon Kaut, a versatile interior player, and senior guard Brandon Yeung, who each earned all-2A Evergreen Conference honorable-mention honors last season.
“Brandon is one of those kids who works really hard and shoots the ball really well,” Donahue said. “Landon is, obviously, a pretty good utility player. He can go inside and he’s worked on his outside game a little bit in slashing to the rim.”
Senior forward Jayden Pannette is also back and is an effective shooter and can get to the rim. Senior forward Rex Akins logged some big varsity minutes behind his hustle and grit.
“Rex is one of those guys you just gotta have on the court,” Donahue said. “He flies around the court and only knows how to play at 110%. You need that guy. He’s gonna get his hand on every loose ball.”
Those are the four key returners, but both the Wasson brothers — senior Cole and sophomore Von, who both state-qualifying golfers — are turning out for basketball as well, and Cole is vying to get into the varsity mix.
But with low upperclassmen turnout, similar to last season, the Tigers won’t have a whole lot of depth this year or a deep rotation.
“But I feel pretty good about the six or seven guys who are mixing in,” Donahue said. “They’ll all play key minutes and they’ll all have the endurance now we’re in a full season and several months to get their legs underneath them.”
Centralia is coming off a 3-8 overall and 3-7 league record last season. Donahue said the offense and defensive schemes will be similar to last year, just tweaked a bit to fit the current personnel.
This group, he said, is athletic, smart and will work well together. The Tigers typically play mostly zone defense under Donahue, who is entering his fifth full season as head coach, but he has a couple guys who can play man-to-man, so they may pressure teams with that, too.
Donahue said he’s not quite sure how the league is going to shake out. It’s tough to base anything off last season’s shortened year. He just hopes his team works hard and can be competitive in what is typically a strong 2A EvCo.
The Tigers kick off their season with a home non-league game against Class 2A Orting on Nov. 30. League play opens up Dec. 10 with a home match against Rochester.