The stats, the final score, they aren’t always what he hoped for. But as far as effort, as far as the hustle after every loose ball and down the court, coach Luke Salme couldn’t ask any more from the Adna Pirates Boys’ Basketball team.
Even the close losses this season can’t eclipse the relentless, let’s go attitude of this Pirates team that continues to improve. “These guys work hard,” Salme said. “They always work hard.”
Offensively, Adna’s solution to a struggling offense is simple. Just get the ball into the hands of Braden Thomas, a 6’ 3” jumping jack senior. Thomas is averaging 19 points and nine rebounds with a season-high 28 points.
Sophomore guard Chase Collins is averaging 12 points. Zander Blankenship-Todd, one of three seniors starting, is third on the team in scoring and is averaging eight points and seven rebounds.
“Honestly, in terms of just athleticism, this might be the best talent I’ve had in 15 years of coaching,” Salme said. “But that doesn’t always translate onto a basketball court. The faster we can get the tempo, the more successful we can be if we can just be athletes and turn and burn.”
Cole Fay is the experienced voice on this year’s Pirates team. He’s the been-there-done-that factor. Fay moved into the starting lineup as a freshman and now as a senior is in his fourth season as a starter. His role and biggest contribution are more on the defensive end of the court.
“I bring energy on the defensive end,” Fay said. “We’ve got to play good defense. If we don’t play good defense, we don’t do very well. Our defense leads our offense. We need that.”
Fay and Thomas are familiar names to Pirates fans, as three-sport standouts. In the spring, Fay plays catcher on the baseball team and Thomas turns out for track. Both were first-team, all-league picks in football.
Fay rushed for 950 yards and was recruited by Lewis and Clark College. Thomas was also a two-way starter, playing quarterback and safety. Football, they agree, is their favorite sport. Yet that doesn’t mean they’re lackadaisical on the basketball court. Every play, every second, they give it everything they’ve got with a no-quit approach.
“Our guys battle for 32 minutes,” Salme said. “They aren’t the kids who say, ‘Hey coach I need a sub.’ I don’t have those kids right now. I may not have kids who play basketball year-round. I have kids who will truly do anything I ask of them full speed.”
So, even though Salme has so many seniors on this team, it’s still a learn-and-grow team.
“Yeah, it is a unique group of kids who would run through a wall for me,” Salme said. “But it’s still that old school dynamic of a B school where every kid plays two or three sports. I get them for three months of the season and then I get them for June. But I would say that I have two players who would say that basketball is their favorite sport.”
It’s been a tough struggle for the Pirates. They got off to a 9-7 overall, 4-2 in league start, but each of their games have been close. Their largest margin of defeat was eight points and six of their losses were by five points or less.
“A lot of times it comes down to basketball IQ and execution,” Salme said. “That’s not our strength. But it’s still a blast to coach kids who are willing to give 100 percent all the time. If things click and we hit some shots, get the tempo going, we could honestly beat any team we’re going to play. It’s a unique group.”
Having the role of scorer hasn’t been a burdensome task for Thomas. That’s because he doesn’t think being a scorer is a must-do role. Points come when they come. “I don’t do it because I have to do it,” Thomas said. “I do it when I get the opportunity.”
Even though football is Thomas’ favorite sport, he’s got the talent to be an all-league pick in basketball.
“He’s the best athlete on the court every game we play,” Salme said. “He can finish above the rim, knock down threes and he gets to the free-throw line like crazy.”
For Fay and Thomas together with Tyler Werner, Ro Hernandez, Able Ingle and Zander Blankenship-Todd, this is their last season on the Pirate’s basketball team and they want to make it count.
“It’s our last ride,” Cole said. “We’re making some memories,” Thomas added. They all agree winning would be the best memory.
“There will be fond memories for this group and some really important lessons learned,” Salme said. “I know that for sure. They’re a good group.”