Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
The best news for Cade Knutson when he sat down to prepare a plan for this season’s Fernley Vaqueros also presented him with a conundrum. Five of the top seven players returned from last year’s team that won the Northern 3A and made it to the 3A state semifinals, but all five are guards – or perhaps more succinctly, are the size of guards.
But six games into the season, including two against teams with plenty of size inside, it’s so far, so good for the Vaqueros.
Playing with essentially a five-guard lineup that embraces the current fad of positionless basketball, the Vaqueros have started the season 5-1, including winning three of four games last week at the Basketball Tribune Showcase at Hug.
The Vaqueros came into the season without graduated seniors Jett Caudle, who was the league’s player of the year last season, and Jake Cumming, who was the team’s inside presence at 6-foot-3.
Although the team has a couple of youngsters who add some size, Knutson said he and the rest of the coaching staff decided that rather than try to fit a traditional five-position lineup, they instead need to their five best players.
“If that means that we’re starting five guards, then we’re starting five guards, and so we’ve had to completely revamp our strategy and our transition,” Knutson said.
That gives the Vaqueros a lineup of five almost interchangeable players who can all handle the ball on the break, initiate offense in halfcourt sets, and drive, pass or shoot when they have the ball.
“We’ve gone away from calling a set play every time, is we did last year because we had Jake and we were trying to get it inside,” Knutson said. “This year we’re staying really spaced and we’re allowing these guys to dictate the offense by the high basketball IQ’s that each of them have, and when you have five guys that are all a threat to catch and shoot a three and go around you, it puts defenses in tough positions, if we’re shooting the ball well.”
That approach has worked to perfection in each of the Vaqueros’ wins. They opened the season Nov. 23 with a 74-36 win over Hawthorne. Johnnie Williams scored 29 points and Sheldon Jacobson added 16 as the Vaqueros blew the game open early.
Then they went to Hug and started the tournament with a gritty 53-51 win over Reed, a game where they trailed 43-38 going to the fourth quarter. Bryce Stephens led the team with 16 points, Anthony Winters had 14 and Williams added 13. Garrett Harjo, an all-league linebacker in football who brings physicality and toughness to the court, led the Vaqueros with nine rebounds.
The next night, the Vaqueros beat Hug 88-54. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Williams with 25. Stephens added 18, Harjo and Sheldon Jacobson both scored 14 and Anthony Winters pitched in with 12.
“Guys were catching it ready to shoot when they were receiving those extra passes and knocking them down, so it was a by far our most put together game of the season, which is why the score ended up the way that it did,” Knutson said.
On Friday night against Fairmont Prep (Anaheim, Calif.) Harjo drew the task of guarding David Obisogun, a 6-8 sophomore post who Knutson believes will be a Division 1 player. Fairmont Prep senior Nathan Kwon hit eight 3’s, but the Vaqueros were able to hang close until the final minutes, when Fairmont pulled away to a 65-45 final.
“It was really within a 10-point game the whole time and I was proud of our guys for that because there’s no doubt that they are an unbelievably talented team from Southern California and our guys, they didn’t play scared at all for any minute of the game so I’m just proud of the way that we’ve played so far,” Knutson said.
Williams led the Vaqueros again with 18 points and Winter had 16.
Saturday the Vaqueros finished the tournament with a dominant 75-42 win over Founders Classical Academy (Las Vegas), 75-42. They led 30-12 after the first quarter and played most of the second half with a running clock.
“I’m happy that our starters today were able to come out after we kind of lit a fire under them after the first minute or two and play the way that they play and build a lead that allowed us to play guys that don’t get as much time when games are close,” Knutson said.
Jacobson was the leading scorer with 17 points, while Stephens and Harjo had 10 each.
Wednesday the Vaqueros blew out Sparks in a Northern 3A crossover game, 71-27. Winters was the leading scorer with 21 points, followed by Stephens with 15.