Knights look to have the right stuff

Joe Bollinger lifted off the floor, got his right-hand on Anthony Ragsdale’s soft alley-oop toss above the rim and slammed it home.

It was young Mr. Bollinger’s first dunk, but not everybody had seen it. Many of his Bremerton High teammates, scattered around the gym, had their backs turned.

“What! Joe dunked! No way!”

The poker-faced Bollinger, an aggressive 6-foot-2 senior who has slammed into his share of bodies on the basketball court, calmly backed off, and tried it again. This time all eyes were on him. Ragsdale underhanded another lob pass toward the hoop. Wham-bam, thank you mam, Bollinger stuffed it again.

What’s up with that Joe?

“Probably all the squats I’ve been doing,” he said.

Teammate Michael Stitt was still shaking his head when asked about it outside the Knights’ lockerroom.

“I don’t know,” Stitt said. “That’s the first time I’ve seen that. He’s always been close, but he finally got one today. Now I’ve got to get one.”

Now, wait a minute. We’re talking about a 5-foot-10 point-guard, right.

“I worked on it and got close, but I figured I’d rather spend my time working on my jump shot than working on my vertical,” Stitt said. “I figured the jump shot would probably be a little more important.”

Good decision, Mike.

The Knights will be counting on Stitt to make a lot of good decisions in this season of high expectations.

Even without Marvin Williams, a highly-touted, multi-talented 6-foot-7 sophomore, Bremerton knew it had the potential for a special season.

Stitt, Bollinger and Kellen Alley, who’s been throwing down dunks, blocking shots and shooting high-arcing jumpers since stepping on the court as a sophomore, gives the Knights a well-grounded veteran trio to build around.

Willliams gives them much, much more.

Add steady, heady 6-5 Noah Garguile, jumping James Bailey, a 6-4 sophomore, and a load of other quick, athletic players to the mix, and you get an idea why everybody’s pointing at Bremerton as the team to beat in the Narrows League Bridge Division.

They players have heard the talk about how they’re supposed to be all-this and all-that.

“In a way you just kind of laugh and smile about it because it’s the beginning of the season,” Bollinger said. “Everybody’s saying Bremerton’s going to take league, but we’ve just got to go out and practice hard and basically just try and show them, and ourselves, what we can do.”

The Knights’ heads haven’t swollen to unusual proportions. Overconfidence, said Stitt, shouldn’t be a problem.

“We’ve got a grip on it,” he said. “We know we’re talented and we know we can accomplish a lot if we put it all together.”

The key?

“Team work, unity, playing together,” Stitt said. “We’ve got to play together and not let our individual goals surpass our team goals.”

Coach Casey Lindberg feels fortunate to have the kind of senior leadership that Bollinger, Alley and Stitt provide.

“They’ve been around the block,” Lindberg said. “They’ve been in the big games and they realize what it takes. It’s nice to have that blend of senior leadership and a couple pretty darn good sophomores.”

It’s a perfect situation for a player like Williams, who has yet to put up his first shot as a varsity player, yet has already held a private audition for a University of North Carolina assistant coach.

“Face it, Marvin does things that other kids can’t at that age,” Lindberg said. “But he’s only 15 years old. A lot of people see this 6-foot-7, talented youngster and expect so much, but they forget that he’s only 15.

“This year we’re not going to have to put tons of pressure on him,” Lindberg said. “There’s going to be expectations for him to perform, but I don’t think there will be any excessive pressure on him where he has to do this or has to do that for us to be successful. This year I’m very lucky to have the three seniors who can provide leadership and I can just let Marvin play.”

The players recognize Williams’ enormous skills. They watch him lead fastbreaks and feed the open man. They know he’s not terribly physical at this stage of his development, but he’s still able to tip-in missed shots and block shots in the lane. He’s got three-point range with his shot, at least when his legs are fresh.

Lindberg wasn’t kidding when he said to list Williams as a guard/forward/center.

“He basically makes everyone around him better,” Stitt said. “He virtually can play every position out on the court, which is a big help for us.”

He’s the real deal.

“Yeah, he is,” said Stitt.

“I give him a lot of credit,” Bollinger said. “He’s working just as hard as everybody else and keeping humble about it all. I think he’ll continue to do that.”

Stitt played summer ball with Williams and has seen enough to know there’s no need to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with the guy who thought long and hard about attending O’Dea High School in Seattle.

“He has a grasp of how things go,” Stitt said. “He knows he’s good, but he also knows we’re all a team and that we all have our goals.”

Lindberg believes Bailey, Bremerton’s other sophomore, has Division I potential. An aggressive all-around player who runs the floor and sticks outside jumpers, the transfer from Kentucky dominates at times during practice. His biggest challenge could come in the classroom.

“We’re pretty deep,” Lindberg said. “We’ve got kids like Anthony Ragsdale, Tieba Bropleh, Zach Otis and the Bailey kid coming off the bench. We can probablay go nine, maybe 10-deep on most nights. In a normal year, a lot of these kids would be pushing for starting spots.”

The Knights will be tested early, opening on the road against Issaquah (Tuesday, Nov. 27) and Eastlake (Friday, Nov. 29), squads reputed to be among the best in their leagues. The Narrows League has produced the last two state 4A champions in Foss (2000) and Lincoln (2001), and the Bay Division of the Narrows is loaded once again. Bremerton and South Kitsap have been tabbed as the teams to beat in the Bridge Division, with Gig Harbor, North Kitsap and Port Angeles considered the best of the rest.

“There’s a lot of competition in the Narrows League, but I see us doing all right depending on how hard we work,” Bollinger said. “We can go as far as we basically want to go. Definitely, the state championship is not out of question or anything.”

State championship?

He’s not talking smack. That’s not Bollinger’s style. Even if he was, how are you going to argue with a guy who just threw down his first dunk.

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