It was the school’s first state championship in any sport since 1995 and its first hoop title since 1940. Now, coach Dick Lee and his Railroaders are stuck with task of trying to repeat. Lee said there are tangible effects of winning a state title, but he stressed its important to live in the present, not the past.
“I see a much greater degree of confidence on the court, not a can we question mark,” he said. “It’s more of a we’ve done it. We know how to do it and that’s our focus again this year.
“But we’ve put last year behind us and we’re very excited about this season. It’s a new season and when you add Fallon, South Tahoe and Elko to the 3A, it will be a more difficult challenge. The league will be every bit as tough as it’s been.”
Sparks cruised to a perfect 12-0 mark in 3A North League play last winter. However, statewide realignment went into effect after the 2009-2010 school year. The Railroaders will now play in a combined 3A-2A Mt. Rose League that will include Truckee, Incline, North Tahoe, South Tahoe and Whittell.
The SHS hoopsters have seven returning players, leading the way into the new league alignment. Seniors Martin Jordan, Henry Banks and Jorge Durado, juniors Erik Garcia, Barry Bowe and Brian Morgan along with sophomore Darius Devine comprise that group.
“Those kids are more verbal than they were a year ago,” Lee said. “They’ve taken that leadership role, both by example and verbally. that takes a little bit of the onus off the coaching staff. We can worry more about execution and less about energy. Although, there are times we still do get on them about their energy.”
Like all of Nevada’s winter prep programs, Sparks began official workouts on Nov. 13. After a week and a half of practices, Lee likes what he sees.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “The kids are excited and eager. There seems to be a lot of determination at this point to try and duplicate last season.”
Lee said the first couple weeks of workouts are relatively the same each year.
“We try to establish a defensive foundation, get everybody in basketball shape, introduce anything new we might want to do this year and do it all without injuries,” the veteran coach said. “It’s been slower than we want it to be … but it’s just something we have to be patient with.”
Sparks has had the 3A North player of the year each of the last three seasons in Zack Quilici (2008) and Angel Guillen (2009 and 2010). That’s a good place for a coach to start, but there may not be an athlete with that kind of skill set or athleticism this winter. That will pose a challenge for Lee.
“I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to replace Angel and what he did,” Lee said. “I feel good about replacing his stats. I don’t know if I can replace his will or his determination to win a game in the last 10 seconds. I just don’t know yet who will want the ball when the game is on the line.”
As is status quo for Lee-coached teams, the Railroaders will face a stiff non-league schedule throughout December. Sparks will play 4A schools North Valleys and Reed. The SHS crew will also compete in the Carson tournament and host their own Rail City Classic, which Lee said boasts its best field since being resurrected two years ago.
“We’ll play some quality opponents,” Lee said. “We’ll find out very early how good we are. We’ll be tested. I’ve never put an onus on winning every game or being very good in the preseason. I’d much rather be perfect in the month of February.”