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Team-oriented approach has Central Valley atop Greater Spokane League standings

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 29, 2020

Central Valley basketball players celebrate at the final horn during a GSL game against Mt. Spokane High School in Mead, Wash on Jan. 7, 2019. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Central Valley basketball players celebrate at the final horn during a GSL game against Mt. Spokane High School in Mead, Wash on Jan. 7, 2019. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

The Central Valley boys basketball program has been ranked among the top six teams in state 4A since the WIAA’s RPI system went live at the start of the new year, and they were No. 3 after the daily update on Wednesday.

Teams ranked lower than the Bears – even in their own league – including Federal Way and Mt. Si get a lot of attention across the state. But folks are starting to take notice.

After a comeback win over Ferris on Tuesday, Central Valley is 15-1 overall and undefeated in the Greater Spokane League at 10-0.

“I think our state ranking is probably about right,” head coach Mike Laws said. “In reality, you know, there’s some real good teams over there and we haven’t played, across state, too many of them. Look, your Mount Si, your Union – they’re good. And they’ve got kind of a better track record and more recent history. So, you know, it’s all interesting.

“The only thing we worry about a little is the RPI at the end.”

CV faces its latest challenge on Friday when the Bears host Mead (9-7, 7-3), which is in a battle for district seeding with Gonzaga Prep (11-5, 8-2) with four games to play.

Unlike a couple of other teams in the GSL, Central Valley doesn’t have that one standout prospect who media types like to talk about. Rather, Laws has employed a team-first atmosphere that his players not only have bought into, but thrived under.

“I mean, we don’t have that marquee guy,” Laws said. “You look at our stats and we’ve got four guys in double (figures), and each night it’s somebody different. Our kids are real comfortable with that, and they know that that is kind of what we’re about.”

Tuesday’s 57-56 win over Ferris was the perfect example. Gavin Gilstrap, the 6-foot-10 junior, led the Bears with 13 points, while point guard Jayce Simmons had 12, reserve guard Dylan Darling added 10 and Noah Sanders chipped in with nine.

CV averages nearly 70 points per game, but no player averages more than 14.

“I think the system we’re in, there’s not really someone who can just go out there and put up 25 a game,” said Sanders, a senior. “I think we have all the talent that (other teams) have.

“I’d way rather have me, Jayce, Gavin have 10 (points) than me go out there and have 25. I’d way rather have that.”

“I think it’s a lot more fun to win as a team,” Gilstrap said. “Especially when one person goes off to get 10 points in a quarter, then someone else the next one, and then the next. It just makes it all-around more enjoyable for everyone.

“It feels like you’re having more fun just playing basketball, and and that’s really what it’s about.”

Laws said that having four or five guys who could lead the team in scoring is strategic advantage.

“You wonder about how other teams are scouting,” he said. “You know, cut off the head of the monster, and which head do you cut off? It’s gotta make it hard for other teams, which, that’s okay with us.”

“It’s awesome, because this is a group of guys that have been together for a long time, a lot of seniors on the squad,” Simmons said. “The continuity between all of us has always been great. And that’s something that we built up from playing from the third grade and in AAU.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that can put the ball in the hoop, and so we love to spread it around. Everybody’s unselfish.”

Laws has the luxury of having several players on his bench who could start on most other teams in the league.

“You know, two or three of them probably could stake a claim they should be starting on this team,” he added. “But you know, we’re bringing some energy off the bench and they’ve all kind of bought into ‘Hey, here’s my role.’ It’s about minutes, and starting is kind of, whatever.”

One of those players coming off the bench is Carsen Raab, the Bears’ first-team all-league wide receiver, who brings incredible athleticism and is usually asked to guard the opponent’s best player when he’s on the floor.

“He’s been getting 15-16 minutes a game,” Laws said. “He sure did a nice job both against Mt. Spokane and against Gonzaga Prep. I kind of give him that job, ‘Hey, you know, here’s your assignment.’

“That’s why we like our kids playing football too. Not only just the physicality of it, but I mean, football being kind of the ultimate team sport. They come in and understand that everybody’s got a role, and it’s at different times, and you do your thing and count on your partner to do theirs.”

The starters appreciate the unselfishness of an all-league player in one sport willing to come off the bench.

“He’s an animal,” Gilstrap said of Raab. “He’s crazy athletic.”

“When (Raab) comes in, right away there’s a spark,” Sanders added. “Having his as his athleticism off the bench is huge, I think. He can go out there and rebound with anybody. It’s huge to have him, even on offense, he can go up there and just pretty much jump over anybody and score.”

Simmons had more love for the bench guys.

“I mean Dylan (Darling), Teagan (Hoard) – those are some guys that come in and give us a big spark off the bench, especially when we come out a little bit sluggish. We put those guys and they know what their role is and they do it well. That’s kind of what makes this team so good.”

If the Bears have one player that gets a little more attention than others, it’s Gilstrap – the big man in the middle. He was sidelined between his freshman and sophomore seasons with a leg injury, but is healthy and starting to show signs of his potential.

Laws even scheduled CV’s holiday tournament specifically to get Gilstrap some competition against a bigger player. The Bears won the Fort Vancouver Holiday Tournament, opening some eyes on the other side of the state.

“It gave our kids some confidence,” he said. “We did that primarily because the Corvallis team had a (7-3) kid. I just wanted our big to get some experience with somebody a little bit bigger and see how he’d do.”

Laws admits to allowing himself to wonder what Gilstrap will look like in his senior season.

“I dream about it every night,” he said. “Hopefully he’s just little quicker, a little stronger. We’re gonna work a little more on his perimeter game too, so he can have a little more stretch to him. He’s got pretty nice little touch right now. We just got to expand that and get that a little bit quicker.”

Gilstrap admits that he wants to work on quickness, strength and footwork.

“This summer, I’m going to be putting work in and putting in a bunch of extra work lifting, working on posting and stuff, so we’ll just have to see how it turns out.”

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