ELKO – For the past six years, one 3A North program has reigned supreme in the landscape of boys basketball – the Elko Indians.
Six regular-season league titles, six regional crowns, six-consecutive trips to the state tournament – no state championships.
The Indians’ closest bid for a 3A state crown came in the 2011-2012 season, falling in the state championship to Lowry by a score of 52-28 with a group of five freshmen – who started the run of league titles and state qualifications.
During the six-year stretch, the Indians have accomplished nearly every feat possible – league MVPs, Coach of the Year honors, 3A North championships, 1st-Team All-State athletes.
The only thing needed to complete the trophy case is the state trophy itself.
The 2017-2018 Indians will begin their quest for seven straight league titles and a state championship, hosting their annual Red Lion Tournament – which has now been in effect for approximately 12 years – from Thursday through Saturday at Centennial Gymnasium.
Elko will open the season against Division 4A program Reed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the tourney kicking off with a matchup of 4A school Reno versus Meridian (Idaho) at 6 p.m.
The Indians will hit the floor without graduated point guard Eric Klekas, who was named the 3A North MVP and a 1st-Team All-State player each of the last two seasons – earning a 2nd-Team All North selection as a sophomore.
In the 2016-2017 season, he broke his own single-season scoring record, pouring in 633 points for a 22.6 average – scoring 30 or more points six times and dropping 20 or more in 17 of 28 contests.
Klekas also set up his teammates with a roster-best 3.4 assists per game, doing work on the defensive end as well with a team-high 3.2 steals per contest.
He became a member of the 50-45-90 club – rare air – shooting 50 percent from the floor, 45 percent from the three-point line and 91 percent from the charity stripe.
His average of 17.96 points per game is first all-time, also topping the Elko record book with 259 made threes (74 ahead of second-place and older brother Stephen Klekas) and career three-point average at 43.2 percent (no one else has made better than 40 percent for a career).
His 86.8 career free-throw percentage is also No. 1 all-time.
He ranks second in career scoring with 1,490 points, trailing only older brother and 2015 Elko graduate Nathan Klekas’ mark of 1,772 points.
Nathan Klekas won the league MVP award in three of his four seasons, Eric Klekas winning the last two – giving the family five of the last six MVPs.
The Indians also graduated elite athlete and forward Kyrin Allen, a 2nd-Team All-North selection in 2016-2017.
Allen was second on Elko’s roster in scoring, averaging double digits at 10.1 points per game, leading the Indians at 7.1 rebounds per contest – 3.2 coming on the offensive glass – closing the season with five double-doubles.
He averaged 1.6 steals per game, often resulting in highlight finishes at the rim on slam dunks.
Allen led Elko in blocks with 1.1 per contest, using his God-given leaping ability to stymie opponents’ attempts.
While Elko lost a 2nd-Team All-League player in Allen, the Indians will gladly welcome back another 2nd-Team All-North athlete with a familiar name, Alex Klekas, for his junior season.
During his sophomore year, He averaged 9.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 steals and two assists – often serving as Elko’s spark plug, the energy of constant effort and intensity.
His pesky on-ball pressure and defense, matched with his hustle for loose balls, made him a crowd pleaser and generally gave a jolt to the Indians at the most crucial times.
Alex Klekas notched his game high of 19 points twice, the first performance coming against Fallon on Feb. 3 at Centennial Gymnasium, saving his final 19-point effort for an important time – coming in the 3A North regional championship against Fernley on Feb. 18 at Winnemucca Events Center, leading Elko to its sixth straight league title.
He dished a season-high five assists and tied for a season best with nine rebounds on Jan. 28 in Elko’s 66-34 victory over Sparks, coming away with a season-best five steals on Dec. 2, 2016, against Wooster in the Red Lion Tournament.
One of Elko’s most promising signs for the upcoming season comes from a player who could not contribute much last season; senior center Jeron Yopps.
Yopps appeared in just five games last year after coming back from a torn ACL he sustained during the 2016 football season, averaging 3.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in limited action.
He was a 2nd-Team All-North selection during his sophomore season – averaging six points and six rebounds – dropping the game-winner with two seconds remaining against South Tahoe in the 2016 3A North regional championship game at North Valleys High School in Reno.
“Having Yopps for a whole year will be big. He’s looking very good,” said Elko coach Chris Klekas. “He played at the end of last season, but he was never fully healthy. He basically missed the whole year.”
Aiding Yopps on the backboards will be senior forward Jose Zataray, who earned an honorable for the league awards during his junior campaign.
Zataray supplied the Indians with heart, grit and muscle in Elko’s undersized lineup – finishing second to Allen with seven rebounds per game.
He added 5.3 points, 1.6 assists and 1.5 steals per contest.
Zataray was a gamer – coming away with many rebounds among thicker, taller competitors – also showing a willingness to welcome contact and go to the floor for loose balls.
He scored in double figures in four contests, posting a season-high 13 points on Feb. 4 at Centennial Gymnasium against Fernley.
Zataray pulled down double-digit rebounds in four games, tying for his season high with 13 rebounds on Dec. 2, 2016, against Wooster and Dec. 10, 2016, against Sparks.
“Alex was a 2nd-Team player and Jose was an honorable mention. Yopps was on 2nd-Team as a sophomore, so we have some good experience coming back,” coach Klekas said.
Guard Angelo Antoniou returns for his senior season after averaging 4.4 points as a junior, showing a flare for the dramatic with some highlight And-1 finishes.
He scored in double digits three times, dropping a season-high 16 points and three 3s on Dec. 16, 2016, against Preston (Idaho).
On Feb. 3 against Fallon, Antoniou came away with a season-best five steals and matched his season high with three assists.
Also returning from injury will be senior guard Ryan Wickersham, who will provide more length for the Indians at the wing with his 6-2 frame.
He will face the team that he lit up for a season-high 14 points and four 3s during the 2016 Red Lion Tournament, squaring off against Reed in Elko’s season opener.
Wickersham’s season was cut short at the midway point, suffering a bone and knee injury, forcing him to miss the final 12 games of the year.
“We have quite a bit of experience and we have some size,” said coach Klekas.
In the middle, the Indians will add more size with 6-foot-3 senior Stockton Salyer and 6-1 senior post Jeremiah Harris – who are each entering their second seasons with the varsity program.
Salyer posted season highs of six rebounds on Jan. 5 against Lowry and four points on two occasions.
“Stockton has gotten a lot better, and Jerry is stronger and can help out our defensive rotation,” said coach Klekas.
One of the notable newbies to the varsity team comes from the entrance of a freshman who is all-too familiar with the Indians’ program; point guard Sean Klekas.
He brings a great basketball mind, solid fundamentals and an overall understanding of the game.
“Sean is a good ball handler and he is a smart player,” coach Klekas said.
Several of the newcomers to the 2017-2018 squad came up through the ’16-’17 Elko junior varsity program: junior guard Michael Iguban, junior guard Christian Cooper, junior forward Joe Simpkins and junior forward Ronin Rowley.
“Ronin is a competitor, a tough kid. Joe is doing well and Christian and Michael will give us more depth at guard,” said coach Klekas.
Also joining varsity are two athletes who did not play basketball last season; junior guard Cooper Jones and senior center Kevin Espinoza.
“Cooper played as a freshman but did not play last year. He will help us on the defensive end. He gets after it,” coach Klekas said. “Kevin played his first two years but not last year. He’s 6-3, so that will be another big body in the middle.”
Coach Klekas is looking for a couple things as the season progresses, scoring and leadership.
“We’re going to have to find some scorers and the seniors have to realize this is their team and step up,” he said. “The league is much improved and we start league play so fast. Burn is a great player and Fernley has a good JV program, South Tahoe has Castles back and Fallon is an athletic team.”
Aside from the Red Lion Tournament, the Indians will be served with a road-heavy diet to start the season, playing their first five and six of their first eight 3A North contests on the road.
Elko will not play a 3A North ballgame at home until Jan. 5 against Sparks.
“Everyone always says it’s a good thing to have a bunch of home games to close the year, but I think you can become complacent with a lot of home games in a row,” said coach Klekas. “I’d rather have them spread out more.”
Take a look at the 2017-2018 Indians for the first time and one of the few chances in the first month of the season, Elko opening the year with a 7:30 p.m. Thursday tip against Reed during the Red Lion Tournament at Centennial Gymnasium.