ELKO — The Elko boys basketball team came within a couple of shots of winning a state championship last winter, returned a large percentage of its offense, is deeper than ever and just breezed through league and regional play undefeated.
Despite those factors, few give the Indians much of chance to make it past the state semifinals this weekend. They face Clark High School in the semis Friday, and the Chargers went 28-2 this season and are ranked fourth in the state.
“In the south, they don’t give us much respect,” Tribe coach Chris Klekas said, “but that’s why you play the games. I’ve got great kids that compete hard and play well. I feel we have the team that can play with them if we play a solid game.”
Friday’s game, which will be hosted by Las Vegas’ Del Sol High School, will tip at 4:40 p.m.
Klekas said Clark and Desert Pines, which will play Lowry in the other semifinal, are as good as any team in the large-school classification.
“They’re athletic and real big,” Klekas said of Clark. “They’ve got a couple of Division I players on their team and had a 22-game winning streak snapped last weekend.”
Elko and Clark do have a common opponent this season to use as a measuring stick. Legacy beat the Tribe 75-67 but lost to Clark 86-67.
Clark averages 65.3 points and 35.1 rebounds and loaded with offensive weapons. Guard Sir Washington leads the team at 14.8 ppg, while forward Diontae Jones is second at 13.4 and leads the team in rebounding at 9.6.
Sherron Wilson (9.3 ppg), Malcolm Davis (8.6), Carter Olsen (6.7) and Colby Jackson (6.5) are serious scoring threats. Jackson dishes out 5.6 assists per game.
“I think we have quite a few guys that can score too,” Klekas said. “I think we match up well against them. Our guards will have to play really well.”
The Indians have a quartet of scoring options leading their offensive production. Nathan Klekas (14.3 ppg), Tim Meo (9.7), Brian Pearson (9.6) and Brandon Jenkins (9.2) are all capable of filling up the basket. Klekas and Pearson start in the front court, while Meo is the team’s sixth man and has started at times due to injury. Tubby Rasch, who has been sick recently, is the team’s third starter along the front line.
The back court, which Klekas’ said will be important, is led by starters Jenkins and Marshall Dumas.
Jenkins has saved some of his best performances for the postseason. Against South Tahoe in the regional semifinals, the sophomore scored a career-high 18 points. The next night against Lowry in the title game he matched that total.
Dumas is a dangerous player for the Indians as well. The long guard, who averages 5.9 ppg, is tops for the Tribe in assists (4.1). Jenkins, Dumas and Klekas are all tenacious defenders. The trio combine for 7.4 steals per game.
“Brandon, Marshall and Cody (Nielsen) have to play really well,” coach Klekas said. “Brandon is shooting the ball well and is playing like I know how he can play.”
Coach Klekas said his biggest concern is the strength of his team’s schedule. While Elko was forced to comprise part of its schedule against Division III teams, the Chargers played Division I schools in Las Vegas and a true Division I-A slate of games.
“These kids haven’t been afraid of anyone all year,” coach Klekas said. “We need to take care of the ball, make shots and limit their second chances. We know the level of play and the level of teams in the south. We’ll be ready to compete and give them a game.”
If the Indians knock off the Chargers, the winner of the Lowry-Desert Pines game will be waiting Saturday.
Elko has faced Lowry six times in the last two years and know exactly what to expect from each other.
Desert Pines, the No. 3 ranked team in the state, is a different story.
“They lost to the No. 1 ranked team in the nation by two points. They’ve got players committed to USC and Eastern Washington. They’re loaded with talent. That’s about all I can say about them,” coach Klekas said.
Julian Jacobs (16.2 ppg), Donavan Wright (12.0), Re’meake Keith (11.1) and Coby Myles (10.8) lead the Jaguars in scoring.
The state title game will switch venues from Del Sol to the Orleans Arena.
“It’s a different location than last year, but we know what state is all about,” coach Klekas said. “This year is different because this is a more real state because we’ve got a south with more teams and really good teams.”
Of course, the Indians are hoping one of those “really good teams” will not prevent them from hanging up their first state championship banner since 1981.
The title game will start at 7:45 p.m. Saturday.