PORT ORCHARD — When the South Kitsap boys and girls basketball teams hit the hardwood this week, both will have new, yet familiar faces directing on the bench.
Brian Cox takes over the boys team for long-time head coach John Callaghan, and CJ Scott will take charge of the girls team. Both are South Kitsap alums and have spent plenty of time coaching in the district.
Cox is a 2003 graduate of South Kitsap High and was named Male Athlete of the Year by the Kitsap Sun that year for his exploits as both a point guard and a pitcher on the baseball team — winning a state championship his senior season on the latter team.
He spent a decade as an assistant — beginning as a volunteer — to Callaghan, his former coach, and hopes to put his own stamp on the program without discarding the things that have made it so successful for so long.
“[John and I] always seemed to be on the same page,” Cox said before a recent practice. “I think there will be a few new things … but the foundation — why mess with a great thing?”
The Wolves enter 2019 with senior captain Kyler Kelso leading the way. Kelso, a 6-foot-5 forward who can play in the paint and shoot the 3-pointer, is the leading returning scorer, averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.
Also returning for his third year as a major contributor is Gavin Morkert, another impressive athlete standing at 6-foot-5 who has rocked the South Kitsap gym on several occasions with highlight-reel dunks.
Point guard Eli Mackie will finally get his chance to direct the offense after sitting in deference to older players such as Riley Escolta and Josh Potz.
“It’s his time to step up; he’s ready to step up,” Cox said.
The team should also get contributions from a third big man, senior Brayden Segerman, who also stands at 6-foot-5. John Walters, a 6-foot-1 senior, will also be counted upon to bring toughness, energy and skill off the bench, as will 6-foot-3 senior Cameron Vance and junior Sam Canton, a top-notch all-around athlete, who is best known as the school’s rising baseball center fielder.
“We have some weapons,” Cox said. “It’s a matter of putting it all together and having the guys recognize how best to take advantage of the opposing team’s defense.”
The Wolves were able to reach the postseason in Callaghan’s final year, going 1-2 at district. They beat Todd Beamer in a pigtail game before losing to Kentridge and Kennedy Catholic.
Most of that team’s major players return with the exception of leading scorer DeAnte Ward. They were able to hold powerful SPSL teams to an average of just 51 points per game and tough defense should once again be the hallmark of this team.
“We belong in that conversation to be in the top half of the league, but we have to go out and prove it,” Cox said.
On the girls side, Scott takes over for Mike Allen, who had coached the team for the past four years and was in his second stint at the helm, having previously coached from 2000-2007.
Scott graduated from South Kitsap in 1989 and represented the Wolves on the swim and cross country teams. He coached the boys swim team from 1994-1998 before leaving to get his master’s degree from Heritage College. He returned in 2013 to coaching varsity in Port Orchard to take over the volleyball program and he was a one-season fill-in for the boys swim team last year. He has also previously coached boys basketball at Cedar Crest Junior High.
The program has struggled in recent years. They won six games last year, the most since 2015 when they were a member of the 4A Narrows League and finished 12-11. But Scott has a young team upon which to build a foundation this year. The roster has one senior, four juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen.
“We’re excited. They have a lot of potential,” Scott said.
And he’s got a good mix of players, too. The team has size, scoring ability and players who can handle the ball. Junior point guard Areeza Amian will dish off to other key girls such as sophomore wing Natalie Millet, junior post Marissa Linne and junior forward Danae Hughes.
“We’re going to improve a lot as the year goes on,” Scott said. “We want to get out of our league and into districts.”