His review of their victory was succinct and positive.
Before a recent practice, Tony Gillispie, the boys basketball coach for the Morton-White Pass High School team for the past 11 years, gave his team a critique, telling them what they did right in a recent blowout win and what they need to work on. Winning, something this team is used to after winning back-to-back state championships the past two seasons, comes with praise.
“Coach’s energy is really high,” said Kaleb Poquette, Morton-White Pass’s senior wing and leading scorer. “He reminds me a lot of Pete Carroll and what he does with the Seattle Seahawks. And how much energy he has. He’s always high fiving and jumping up and down.”
That energy, that want-to-win determination, is contagious.
And that winning – they’re off to an 11-1 start – is part genetic. Their top two leading scorers just happen to have the same last name. They’re brothers. Kaleb Poquette, a four-year starter, and Matt Poquette, a sophomore who played on the junior varsity last year, also have another important ingredient. They’re both tall. Kaleb is 6’4″ and Matt is 6’5″.
That size, and their sweet shooting touch, helps them average a combined 32 points. Kaleb, with a season-high 34, is averaging about 18 points. Matt is averaging nearly 14.
And these two brothers are missing all the sibling rivalry stuff. The only thing they care about is winning and not who scored the most points.
“I remember playing against him when we were younger,” Kaleb said. “And we’d compete. That’s just how our family is and how we are individually. But that never leads to anything off the court. We’re as tight as any brothers. We just compete.”
It’s not the first time these Poquette brothers have been in the same starting lineup.
“It’s pretty cool,” Matt said about being in the same starting lineup as his brother. “We have a lot of chemistry together. We’ve been playing together since we were young. He knows when to get all of us teammates the ball in the right spots. He’s just a great leader.”
And when this season is over, this won’t be Kaleb’s last basketball game. He’s already signed to play at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho.
Because these two brothers get along so well, there’s no ongoing sibling rivalry skirmishes their coach has to put out. Actually, Kaleb is like a coach on the floor for his brother.
“They work great together,” Gillispie said. “Kaleb’s looked forward to playing with Matt for a long time. He’s finally got the opportunity to play with him every night. They get along great. They play well together. Matt has a lot of respect for Kaleb, as do the rest of the players.”
After winning back-to-back 2B state championships, expectations have grown for this Morton-White Pass team. But coming into this season, with just one returning starter back in Kaleb, there were some unknowns about how this team would do.
“I was a little concerned, but I did see potential,” Gillispie said. “I had some kids back who played a lot.”
There was Braiden Elledge, a 5’8″ guard who was Gillispie’s sixth man last year. Then there was Gage LaClef, who got some playing time last year off the bench as a junior. Now, both are starters, with LaClef averaging 11 points and Elledge averaging 8.
“Gage didn’t get a lot of varsity time, but I knew he had potential,” Gillispie said.
The fifth starter is Cameron Hart, a hustling, 5’10” senior guard who is also averaging about 8 points per game.
Last year, Gillispie had a choice to make. Should he bring Matt up as a freshman onto the varsity or let him get more playing time on the junior varsity? Gillispie chose to keep Matt on the junior varsity team.
“Now, I’m glad he played on JV and got a lot of playing time down there,” Gillispie said. “He’s blossomed better. The team is coming along nicely.”
Gillispie understands what it means to play basketball in a small town. He played for White Pass High School in Randle long before the two schools combined their sports five years ago. Now, Gillispie is paying off a debt. By coaching, he’s trying to fill the role of those who coached him, shaping his life. It’s not just about winning, while that’s important. It’s also about being an influence, teaching kids life skills.
“My dad was a coach for years,” Gillispie said. “That influenced me into getting into coaching.”
Gillispie will tell you that learning how to be a good teammate has life-long effects.
“Basically, if you fit in on a team you can turn out to be a successful person in life,” Gillispie said. “It’s not just basketball when you’re a coach. You’re trying to teach the importance of life and the game itself. Winning helps that stuff. Everyone’s working toward one goal and it’s very rewarding in the end. That can help you in life.”
And, Gillispie is hoping, it can also help Morton-White Pass win another state title.