Guard-heavy hoops: Talented shooters should shine in Southwestern League
The big guys dominated boys basketball the past two seasons in the Southwestern League.
Two years ago, Fruita Monument’s Alex Mende (6-foot-4), Durango’s Loren Doughty (6-5) and Grand Junction’s Geoff Baldwin (6-4) and Everett Robinson (6-4) were the dominant forces in the league. All were first-team all-SWL picks.
Last year, it was Nathan Robertson (6-3) of Montrose, Josh Wells (6-4) of Central, Drew Bridges (6-4) of Fruita Monument and Sheis Anderson (6-4) of Montezuma-Cortez controlling the paint.
All but Bridges are gone, and what remains is a guard’s league.
“I think it’s going to be guard heavy,” Central coach Phil Cain said. “There are still some good posts, but there’s going to be a lot of pushing the tempo.”
Grand Junction, Central and Fruita Monument have talented, experienced guards leading the attack.
Central’s Taylor Sanchez was the only underclassmen in a starting lineup of seniors last season. Sanchez, now a junior, was one of the Warriors’ most dangerous players, averaging 10 points per game last season.
“We expect a lot out of him this year and he expects a lot out of himself,” Cain said. “This year he’s taking the ball to the hole a lot stronger.”
Sanchez got a little beat up during the football season, sustaining two concussions as the Warriors’ starting quarterback, but said he’s ready for the season.
“I have to take a leadership role this year,” Sanchez said. “I’ll be handling it and I’m pretty comfortable in that role.”
Sanchez will have to call his own shots early in the season with the Warriors losing four of their top five scorers.
Tyler Daniels’ role at Fruita Monument is that of the ultimate distributor. Daniels has options in Bridges, last year’s SWL player of the year, and forwards Tyler Kenagy and Alex Padgett.
“(Tyler’s) the bread and butter of our team,” Fruita Monument coach Dave Fox said. “He’s a lightning rod for what we do because of what he can do with the ball and his ability to dribble at a high speed.”
Daniels missed 11 games early last season with an elbow injury, but was a critical piece to the Wildcats’ 10-0 run in the SWL. Daniels averaged five points and three assists during the final 11 games of the season.
“He really makes us go,” Fox said. “But we are going to have a lot of depth on the perimeter with Padgett, James Lewis, Cody Daniels, Keenan Coit, Zach Thorpe and Alex Jouflas.”
Grand Junction has had a lot of stability in its backcourt with Tyler Winder. Now a senior, Winder has spent the past two seasons starting at point guard, but this season is moving to shooting guard.
Winder averaged 8.5 points per game last season, but should see his numbers go up with the addition of Nate Yanez. The 6-foot-3 senior moved from Palisade and will play point guard.
“We are a heck of a lot quicker this year,” Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson said. “Nate can handle it well and we’re excited to have him.”
The stellar guard play isn’t be limited to the valley schools, though. Montrose features Dominique Youngren and Durango has Easton Garcia.
Fox said having such a large group of good guards in the league will change defensive game plans.
“You are going to have to defend quickness a lot more than in years past,” Fox said. “There aren’t as many big guys this year, so teams will rely on guard play.”