WELLS – Entering the 2017-2018 basketball season, the Wells Leopards have a lot of unanswered questions and unknown commodities.
Wells failed to reach the postseason last year, entering the fresh season with a major loss already on the slate.
Zane Rodriguez, a 2016-2017 2nd-Team All-League performer during his sophomore season, tore his ACL during the football season and is likely out for the season.
There is an outside chance he could be ready to go if the Leopards were to make the postseason, but head coach Joel Soriano said he is “probably going to save him for baseball.”
Rodriguez not only provided size and length for Wells, he was also one of the – if not the – most athletic players on the roster.
He provided buckets in the paint, rebounding ability, a defensive presence and changed a lot of opponents’ shots.
Rodriguez scored the ball most consistently for the Leopards.
While he rarely had huge halves, he generally scored the ball evenly throughout the games – avoiding bad stretches and major droughts.
The Leopards graduated their other 2nd-Team All-League performer in June; guard Britton Johnny.
Johnny served as Wells’ engine, as he went – so did the Leopards – and vice versa.
He began the season on an incredible note, winning the Leopards several games at the buzzer and using big halves – many coming in the second.
Wells graduated senior Joey Gardner, who snagged a league honorable mention last year in the 1A Northern-East.
He provided the Leopards with an inside-outside punch.
His physical style made him one of Wells’ best finishers in traffic, but due to the Leopards’ struggles on the perimeter except for the play of Johnny, Wells head coach Joel Soriano was forced to leave Gardner outside and use him to bring the ball down the floor and not turn it over when facing pressure – negating a lot of his talents in the post.
Juan Berumen will return for his senior season, but he was also injured toward the end of Wells’ football season and must rehab a broken hand – Soriano expecting one of his longest, rangiest athletes to be out until the middle of January.
“We lost a lot of our size with Zane and Juan being injured. We are pretty fast, but we need to learn to be in control,” Soriano said.
One of the players returning for Wells with size is senior Kaysen Sorenson, who brings length and athleticism to the post and will be asked to shoulder the load in the middle until Berumen and/or Rodriguez can return.
He will be joined by junior Jesus Quintero and sophomore Sergio Soriano.
Coach Soriano likes the prospectus of freshmen Jadon Anderson and Riley Stewart at guard, joined in the backcourt by sophomores Hyrum Johnson and Matthew James.
The Leopards may earn the benefit of a sophomore transfer from New Jersey, Kareem Serag, who can “dribble the ball and is a little exciting,” according to coach Soriano.
However, coach Soriano said Serag has not been cleared to play by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.
Wells did gain the services of a crossover from the wrestling team, junior Enrique Aguilar.
“He’s not very tall. We have him listed at 5-3, but he’s athletic,” said coach Soriano. “For not playing basketball, he picks it up pretty quick. He will really help us on defense.”
Coach Soriano said his team’s weakness early in the season is its inexperience, combined with the losses due to injuries.
“Right now, we are going to keep things simple on offense. We’ll have a man defense and a zone defense,” he said. “That’s what preseason is for. We just have to improve by the time league starts in January.”
The Leopards will get their first taste of action at 1:30 p.m. Thursday against Whittell in the annual Wells Rural Electric Classic, following with a 7:30 p.m. dip against Wendover, Utah.
Wells will take on Round Mountain at 2 p.m. Friday, closing the day against state runner-up Pahranagat Valley at 8 p.m.
The Leopards will close the WREC tourney at 1 p.m. Saturday against the Elko junior varsity.