One letter pretty much sums up the status of the Douglas High School boys basketball team right now. That's the letter U -- for uptempo and unknown.
And while they may be young, relatively inexperienced and lacking in size, coach Keith Lewis also happens to be upbeat about the prospects of the Tigers as they head into their season opener Saturday with a 5 p.m. game against Spanish Springs in Sparks.
The Tigers have some big shoes to fill after last season, when they went 10-16 overall (6-6 Sierra League) and finished a hard-fought 65-60 loss against High Desert League champion Reed in the first round of the Northern 4A Regional Tournament. All-league players Erik Olson, Will Thomas and Travis Baker have graduated, which puts Lewis in the position of having to reload for the 2002-03 season.
Never mind. The fifth-year Douglas coach thinks he has some pretty good bullets.
"We're pretty young, so it'll be a challenge, but we had a successful JV year and I think we're going to be kind of a sleeper," Lewis said. "We just have kids people haven't heard a whole lot about yet. But if we're doing our job, then people will hear about them soon."
Junior guards Luke Rippee and Andy McIntosh are the only players who return with any extensive varsity experience (Rippee is entering his third varsity season). The team roster includes three seniors, nine juniors and three sophomores.
"We want to push it up a notch," Lewis said. "We're carrying 15 guys and we're going to be running guys in and out. That's how we're going to get kids in, to play very uptempo and just bring waves at you. Hopefully, by the fourth quarter, we're going to be the team with the legs left and put ourselves in the position of being able to win games down the stretch.
"In this case, we're not going to be so concerned about who's starting games as we are about who's finishing the games. And that's going to be different from night to night. There's going to be guys step up on one night and maybe not play as much the next night. We'll go with the hot hand and I think you've got to do that with the depth we've got."
The Tigers need to play at a fast pace to compensate for lack of height. Tyler Hales, a 6-foot-4 senior, is the tallest player on the team. After that, the Tigers have 6-3 senior Ryan Waffird, 6-3 junior Chris Honer and 6-2 junior Anthony Walter.
"We definitely want to play uptempo, but we want to play smart uptempo," Lewis said. "I think that's going to be the key for us, too. Being able to to recognize those situations when we need to run and when we need to pull it out and run some offense."
One player to keep an eye on is 6-foot junior Nick Summers, who played varsity ball as a freshman at Whittell two years ago. Last year, but had to play for the Douglas JV team in accordance to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) free transfer regulation. And the Summers family is well known -- his father, John, was a key player for Whittell's 1975 1A state runner-up team and his grandfather, Jim, set the state single-game scoring record of 70 points in 1952.
"Obviously, we have high expectations of Nick (Summers) coming up from the JV level," Lewis said. "It was frustrating last year because there were times when we could have used his outside shooting threat and leadership at the varsity level. I think he will be successful this year just because of his knowledge of the game."
The Tigers hardly expect to be a one-man offensive show, the coach added.
"We're going to be balanced. I think you're going to see different guys step up on different nights," Lewis said.
One of those players is 6-foot junior Zach Tretton, who combined with Summers to lead the junior varsity squad last season.
"Zach Tretton had a great JV year. He doesn't look like a basketball player, he just goes out and gets the job done," Lewis said.
Hales and Walter are players the Tigers will look to when they go inside.
"Both of those guys worked very hard in the weight room and on the basketball court during the offseason," Lewis said. "Anthony Walter has improved by leaps and bounds since last season, especially, but I think they are both really going to be surprises."
Sophomores Travis Stuman, Eric Emm and Colten Mellows should be heard from this season, too.
"We're carrying three sophomores and I think all three are going to contribute," Lewis said.
Getting through the Sierra League season will be a formidable challenge in itself. Reno leads the way with a veteran cast that features 7-foot senior center David Padgett, who is headed to Kansas next year.
"I don't think there's any doubt Reno is the team to beat," Lewis said. "But I think it's going to be wide open in this league. Every night in and every night out, we're going to have to show up and play."
The Tigers open tonight on the same Spanish Springs floor where they ended last season with the regional tournament loss against Reed. They travel to Fallon on Tuesday and then debut at home on Thursday at the second annual Carson Valley Classic. The Tigers play their first round game against Laguna Creek (Elk Grove, Calif.).
The tournament field also includes last year's runner-up Amador Valley (Pleasanton, Calif.), a perennial Bay area power, in addition to Memorial High School from Victoria, Texas.
Memorial improved its season record to 4-1 Tuesday with a 76-62 win over Fort Bend (Austin).
Amador Valley is listed No. 8 overall in Northern California in the Cal-Hi Sports preseason rankings.
"I think we've got a good early season schedule. We have some games that we are definitely capable of winning and then we're challenging ourselves with some of the teams we're bringing into our tournament," Lewis said. "Vacaville, I'm sure, will be a pretty good tournament. And then we go to San Diego, so I think we will be ready come January."
Overall, the coach likes what he has seen of this Douglas team.
"It's a pretty heady group, it's an athletic group, it's a competitive group and it's a group that has been accustomed to winning at the various levels they've played at," Lewis said. "These guys are so competitive. They really get after each other and they're going to make each other better in practice."
2002-03 VARSITY BOYS BASKETBALL ROSTER
10 Bryan Miller 5-10 jr.
12 Colten Mellows 5-10 so.
14 Justin Coleman 5-11 sr.
20 Nick Summers 6-0 jr.
22 Ryan Waffird 6-3 sr.
24 Tommy Welton 6-0 jr.
30 Anthony Walter 6-2 jr.
32 Luke Rippee 5-10 jr.
33 Andy McIntosh 6-1 jr.
34 Zach Tretton 6-0 jr.
40 Travis Stuman 6-0 so.
42 Eric Emm 5-10 so.
43 Tyler Hales 6-4 sr.
50 Chris Honer 6-3 jr.
52 Patrick Carlson 5-9 jr.