Friday Night Lights for Galena
Appeal Sports Writer
When the Galena Grizzlies and Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.) Monarchs square off in the teams’ season opener Friday in San Jose, it won’t just be another preseason battle.
Although the Monarchs, ranked No. 16 in the nation by USA Today, and the Grizzlies, ranked No. 1 in Nevada in the Nov. 27 issue of Sports Illustrated, will be the main attraction, there will be a subplot in this basketball drama.
Galena’s Luke Babbitt, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound junior center, and Drew Gordon, Mitty’s 6-9, 237-pound junior power forward, will compete against each other under the watchful eyes of more than 40 college scouts and the 1,800 fans expected to attend the game at the AMHS gym, beginning at 8 p.m.
The 16-year-old Babbitt averaged 25 points per game last year for the Grizzlies, who finished at 12-0 in the High Desert League and 22-7 overall after eventual state champion Reno eliminated them in the Northern 4A regional semifinals.
Gordon, also 16, averaged 15.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.5 blocked shots and 3.8 assists in leading the Monarchs to a 29-5 finish, a West Catholic Athletic League championship and to the finals of the Division II Central Coast Section championship game, which they lost to Palo Alto.
Both are rated five-star players by Scout.com. Various Web sites rank Babbitt between No. 24 and No. 5 (as a junior) while Scout.com ranks Gordon No. 6.
“Babbitt’s more versatile, more of an inside-out player,” said Galena coach Tom Mauer, who is in his 15th season for Galena. “Drew’s good inside of 10 feet. He’s a power, power player. He’s a slam-dunk, showtime player. His potential is unlimited.”
The highly pursued Babbitt recently pared down his list to five universities, including Ohio State, Nevada, Gonzaga, UCLA and Arizona, while Gordon is just beginning to entertain his numerous options.
“He’s young. He’s a grown-up junior as well,” said seventh-year Mitty coach Brian Eagleson of Gordon. “Athletically, he’s very gifted. We’re working on his skill set and basketball game to catch them up with his athleticism.”
Mauer said Babbitt outscored Gordon, 16-9, when the pair met as freshmen in Galena’s victory over Mitty. While he’s sure that Gordon has improved since then, Mauer has seen first-hand Babbitt’s progress.
“He had a phenomenal summer playing with the Prospects,” Mauer said of Babbitt. “He was in an NBA camp and was the No. 1 small forward. He played in the (Albert) Schweitzer Games, in Mannheim, Germany. It was an 18-and-under tournament and at 16, Luke was the youngest. He started all but one game and had a great game against Israel to get his team to the medal round.
“He had international experience this summer, played in the AAU, had individual camps…that taught him a lot.”
Mauer said Babbitt has improved his strength and lateral quickness, which enables him to move side-to-side and better contain his opponents defensively.
“His value in college moved up,” Mauer said. “His marketability went huge. His ball handling and his understanding – offensively and defensively – of the game have come out. No four (power forward) or five (center) can shut down Babbitt.”
Mauer has also spent a lot of time crunching film of Mitty and feels his team matches up well with the Monarchs, who sport at least three other prospects in 6-6 junior guard Collin Chiverton, 6-8, 245-pound power forward/center Enoch Andoh, a junior transfer from South Point Catholic (Ariz.), and 5-9 senior guard Kevin Toth.
Mauer says Mitty plays a “four-out, one-in” offense similar to that of Memphis, Pepperdine and the Denver Nuggets.
“Their philosophy offensively is to drive (in), dish (out) and hit the 3-pointer,” Mauer said. “They know when they drive they will get to the foul line or the lay-up, or they can kick it out by getting help. I disagree with it because there’s no rebounding. Who’s there to rebound?”
Mauer said 6-6, 215-pound senior forward Eric Maupin, who is also a pitcher for the Grizzlies’ baseball team, has made a dramatic improvement this year.
“If it wasn’t for his 90 mile-an-hour fastball, he could probably play basketball for small D-I schools,” Mauer said. “Maupin’s quicker than Andoh and he’s the best at getting to the rim. (In practice) he went in from 20 feet out on one bounce and did a two-handed monster dunk. Maupin has explosive ability and he can knock down a 19-footer.”
Mauer said the Grizzlies’ motion offense – run by 6-3 senior guard J.D. Peters, 6-4 senior forward Bryce Crook and 6-5 senior guard Tristan Hill – is designed to create and exploit mismatches.
“Peters, Hill and Crook – all three can bring the ball up and, more important, post up,” Mauer said. “J.D., Tristan and Bryce – you can post those guys up and Babbitt and Maupin can go out (and hopefully draw Mitty’s bigs out). I don’t think that Gordon can guard Babbitt outside. I hope he (tries). There will be a chess game going on.”
And as with any good chess game, defense will be at a premium.
“The game will be a defensive battle, and that’s where it will be won,” Mauer said. “Our goal is to hold Mitty to less than 50 points and we can’t have more than 12 turnovers. Defensively we’ll mix it up. We’re not going to play man-to-man (defense). They’ll have to adjust to the trap. (Legendary North Carolina coach) Dean Smith did it successfully.
“They’ll have a hard time scouting us. We have sets, motions – we don’t have a pattern offense. We don’t have out-of-bounds plays. We have four different presses and five different defenses.”
For his part, Eagleson said his team is progressing and learning to deal with the publicity a No. 16 team receives.
“They’re a talented group, but we’re not as cohesive as we need to be at this point,” Eagleson said. “We should get a good crowd.”
Mauer is confident in his team, but is keeping things in perspective.
“They’re ranked No. 16 by USA Today, they’re all juniors…what will they be next year?” Mauer lamented. “They’re in the Bay Area – who else is going to move in? These things run in cycles. De La Salle has certain players. But for the next couple of years everybody is going to be moving to where Drew is. (Andoh moved to San Jose after seeing Gordon on ESPN.) That’s the privilege of being Catholic.
“We’re 1,500 kids (at Galena High School). We’re zoned for Galena. Every kid we recruit or zone moves into that.”
No. 1 Nevada SI team vs. No. 16 nationally ranked USA Today team; Babbitt vs. Maupin; zoned Galena school vs. Catholic recruit mecca. More than 40 college scouts watching. This game gives a new definition to Friday Night Lights.