In sports, as in life, there are always variables you can’t control. You can’t control how tall you are, how talented the other team is or what other people decide to do.
What you can control is your effort.
That’s what Olympia High boys basketball coach Rob Gordon preaches daily to his team. Go 100%, 100% of the time. Or as it was plastered on Gordon’s shirt in practice on Monday, Feb. 5, Titan Time: All Out, All 32 — meaning the Titans’ go all out for all 32 minutes of the game.
“As an individual, and as a team, I feel like we need to just play hard and continue to learn how hard we have to go each time out on the court to win,” Titans guard Kaiden White said. “It takes a different level of effort to win it all.”
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Score first to pass first
The senior is the perfect example of focusing on what you can control.
“We actually lost who we thought would be our starting point guard, Cam Miles, a week before practices started this year, to a high-level prep school in Arizona, AZ Compass,” Gordon said. “So, when we lost Cam, it really put us in a tough situation.”
That’s where White came in.
“We had to ask a player, who wasn’t adept at playing the point guard position, to fill that spot for us,” Gordon said. “Kaiden’s done a great job of stepping into that role and managing the duties of the position, even though he’s more of a scoring guard.”
“It was a big challenge for me to adapt to the position and figure out how to play on the ball more and turn from a more score-first player into a pass-first player,” White said. “But I feel like, as we have gone through the season, I’ve gotten used to the role and am more than ready for the playoffs.”
White excelled in his new role. In 25 games this season, he has led the Titans in assists with an average of four a game and is second in scoring with 12.6 points an outing.
A lot of the reason why he’s been so successful has to do with his taking advantage of the opportunity to improve his skillset and mentality.
“With those guys leaving, it added fuel to us as a team to show that we could step up into those roles because those were key pieces for this team that we (were) relying on. But I feel like we all stepped up,” White said. “Focusing on limiting turnovers as the point guard was the area I’ve grown the most. … I also feel like I’m naturally adapting better to the basketball situation, because of how the role I’m playing makes me think about the game.”
Becoming a team
Beyond White adjusting to his new role, this Olympia group faced another form of adversity in having to gel what was essentially a new roster.
Along with Miles, Carter McDole also switched schools, and last year’s seniors Jizzle James, the leading scorer from 2023, Kevins Charles and Charles Outlaw all graduated, meaning five of Olympia’s top seven contributors from a 26-3 team weren’t returning.
“With those guys gone and these new guys coming in, it’s been an opportunity for them to step up and play a bigger role in this team and really come into their own,” Gordon said.
Thanks to their attitude and effort, the 2023-24 Titans are in prime position to make a deep postseason run.
“We have a whole new group of guys this season, with only two returning players (who) were in the rotation last year,” Gordon said. “So, what’s been fun this season has been their ability to receive coaching. Most of the season I’ve been able to do my job, and that’s because the guys have been willing to be coached
“We have four new guys, so it’s been kind of a challenge to get those new guys with the couple of returning guys to kind of gel together and understand the standards of our program,” he said. “But we’ve somehow figured out how to make it work … and that is what has led to our success so far this year.”
Need a bucket? Call Kam
With White taking the reins at point guard, Vophcy Prophete serving as his backcourt mate and floor stretcher, big man Lucca Reinehr playmaking from the elbow, along with Sean Owens and Deshawn Tolbert serving as the all-important glue guys, Gordon has molded this talented roster into a legitimate team.
“This year’s team … is more well-rounded than last year’s in terms of their skills, and actually over the whole group of guys, there’s probably more talent on this year’s team,” Gordon said.
The only thing he’s missing is a certified bucket-getter — especially when you consider the 22.7 points a game James took to Cincinnati.
“I don’t think you can replace a guy like Jizzle James,” Gordon said. “He’s almost irreplaceable … and not so much because of the scoring, but more the standard of work ethic that he brought to the program. It was unparalleled.”
But with the program’s standard-bearing responsibilities passed down to Owens, Tolbert, Prophete and White, this iteration of the Titans still was missing the guy who could get you a basket when you need it most.
That’s where transfer wing Kameren Wright answers the call.
“I just come in and do what I do best — play ball,” Wright said. “I’ve just been putting my head down and not really worrying about what they’ve had here in the past. I just do my own thing.”
The full-fledged three-level scorer has a sweet jumper, elite-level athleticism and the ability to create space against any defender with his superb handle — his team-leading 16.2 points a game are proof of his skill set and another justification for the offers he’s earned from the likes of Missouri, Oklahoma State, Tennessee and plenty others.
Time to eat
With the talent and cohesion to match up with any team in the state, Olympia has what it takes to make a lot of noise this postseason.
Their coach agrees but said his team needs to do one thing to accomplish that goal: Get ready to eat.
“If we’re not satisfied with what we’ve done so far, we’re going to be fine,” he said. “We’re going to be in the regional tournament, right now, as the two-seed behind Oak Ridge High, and that’s fine. But we just need to not be satisfied with what we’ve done so far, and if we can hit the reset button right now — because right now it’s a brand new season — and really get hungry, I think we’ll be OK.”
Gordon’s players know that not being satisfied with their accomplishments means continuing to sweat the details.
“The biggest thing for us is continuing to be accountable, to do the little things on and off the court (such as) watch film, get extra shots up and supporting and helping each other. Each of us needs to do our part to help the team,” Prophete said.
“Coach really emphasizes minimizing mistakes and focuses on getting the little details right,” he said. “I feel like that’s what our team needs to focus on most. We also need to keep getting after it at practice. … We need to go 100%, all the time, and keep doing what we can to put our teammates, and put the team in the best position to win.”
Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.
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