Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Ray Brewer and Case Keefer briefly discuss the upcoming state basketball tournaments in Reno.
Shabazz Muhammad. Stephen Zimmerman. Zach Collins.
Those are just a few of the legendary names — the NBA Draft contingent — that have contributed to the Bishop Gorman basketball team’s current streak of six straight state championships. Record-breaking success can be overbearing, so it’s often considered in a team's best interest to suppress thoughts of the past.
It’s never that easy, however, and the Gaels freely admit that upholding their tradition is in the back of their minds as they head to Reno for this year’s state tournament.
“We’ve got to keep the legacy going,” sophomore guard Noah Taitz said. “We’ll do whatever it takes to keep the legacy going.”
It will first take a victory over Spanish Springs in the semifinals at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the Lawlor Events Center. Gorman would then face the winner of Canyon Springs vs. Bishop Manogue at 8:10 p.m. Friday for the state title.
The back-to-back elimination games is a format where Gorman has routinely excelled. The Gaels have won 12 straight games at the state tournament by an average of 26.5 points, including winning each of the first 11 by double digits before edging Clark 62-58 in last year’s championship game.
“There’s a little pressure,” senior guard Jamal Bey said. “But it’s nothing we haven’t played through.”
There’s a distinct difference between this year’s Gorman team and its forebearers: The 2017-18 Gaels were not a prohibitive favorite to reach this point. In fact, going back to the start of the season, it’s a slight surprise the Gaels are sitting in their current position.
The Sun ranked Clark ahead of Gorman in its preseason rankings, and most others in the local high school basketball community agreed that the Chargers were the team to beat. And Gorman beat them four times.
“I think it was deserved that they were favored to start the year,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “They had everyone coming back plus (Greg) Foster coming in. They were the definite favorites, but we kept getting better all year. Our seniors played great, and our young guys stepped up. I’m really proud of this group. It’s been a really fun group of kids to coach, and hopefully we have a couple more games left in us.”
Bey was always expected to be the primary force, and he’s responded by leading the team by averaging more than 20 points per game. But the season came down to how quickly a talented-but-raw collection of underclassmen found their stride against elevated competition.
Taitz can be as lethal of a scorer as Bey, with sophomore classmate Isaiah Cottrell the third Gael averaging in double-digit scoring. Cottrell is even more valuable defensively, where he uses his 6-foot-9 frame to affect every opponent's inside shot.
A pair of freshmen, playmaker Zaon Collins and sharpshooter Will McLendon, serve as key reserves to relieve a duo of steady senior starters in D.J. Howe and Chance Michels. The pieces are all naturally complementary and, at their best, come together in natural unison like in last week’s Sunset regional where Gorman beat Desert Oasis via running clock before comfortably overcoming Clark.
“I’d say we’re peaking at the perfect time,” Taitz said.
That’s bound to be tested at the state tournament, but don’t expect Gorman to give in easily. Pressure isn’t the only thing borne out of the streak the Gaels are trying to extend; there are also benefits.
Gorman has a familiarity with getting this far, and that brings with it a corresponding confidence.
“We’re very hyped to get this seven,” Bey said. “It’s been a great season, and we want to end on a great note.”