Aro’s thoughts week one: Varsity basketball looking dominant through two games

State championship. That’s what I thought as I watched Westlake thump McNeil 90-52 at Concordia University, a neutral venue, in the CTX High School Basketball Tip Off Showcase Saturday afternoon.

Coming into the year with the same expectations they had last year as the No. 1 team according to the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, it’s easy to think they might once again falter. But this team isn’t like last year’s. Sure, their core five guys, seniors Luke Pluymen, Keonte Kennedy, Matthew Mayer and Brock Cunningham and junior Will Baker are back, but there seems to be a different fire under them this year. Brock said it the best when I talked to him before the season.

“Last year, we kind of had that mentality as well, but this year it’s all or nothing,” he said. “It would be the under achievement of the year if we had all this talent and threw it down the drain.”

Maybe it’s because the senior “Fab Four” are about to graduate, maybe it’s because that last-second game winner by Wagner in last year’s State quarterfinal is still fresh on their mind, but either way, the Chaps are hungry. And when they’re hungry, they’re scary.

Two games in, they’re averaging 88.5 points per game, and more importantly, their offense has a plethora of scorers. Will working inside the paint is a monster, and he happens to have developed a deadly three-point shot over the summer. Sitting on the sideline of their game against McNeil when he hit five three’s in the first quarter, a guy beside me said in awe, “We got the real unicorn here” in reference to Kristaps Porzingis. And he was right, Will looked unstoppable in the paint, and it seems like he’s added a bit of size because guys are just bouncing off of him down low.

Keonte, Matthew and Brock are getting the points that everyone expected them to get, and while none of them have been called upon to have a great game just yet, they all look capable of scoring in bunches. Matthew has been shooting smarter shots this year and is also taking advantage of his height to get to the rim a little bit more. Brock once again is grabbing the majority of the boards for the team and that’s led to him getting numerous second-chance buckets in the paint. Keonte has arguably been the most versatile of the three thus far, and the Xavier-commit has not only been getting his own buckets with his athleticism and ball-handling, but he’s also created shots for his teammates.

The fifth starter and the one that’s allowed all the other cogs in the offense to function has been Luke. This is his fourth year running the varsity offense, and it’s clear how comfortable he is handling the ball and playing the role of distributor. Although he hasn’t been creating his own shots as much as the other four, he’s knocked down open three’s and has given the other four space to go to work.

But the most impressive part of this team, and why I think they’ll go further than they have in the past two years, is their effort defensively. Although they gave up 71 points to Alamo Heights, the Mules only scored 29 in the first half. With Lucero’s high pressing scheme, the Chaps have forced turnovers all over the court and that’s led to easy fast-break points. Against McNeil, a big part of why they were able to open up an early lead was due to great defense. While shooting lights out helped the cause, the effort put forth by everyone on the court to trap, and the awareness to create steals meant that the Chaps didn’t always have to work hard offensively to score. What struck me the most from this team was that they looked like they were having fun defensively, which doesn’t bode well for their opponents.

While it’s much too early in the season to know how Westlake will match up against some of the top teams in Texas, the early season wins are a promising sign. Their Thanksgiving tournament in Duncanville, Texas will give a much clearer picture of their overall ranking as they’ll play current No. 2 team in the state, Denton Guyer, and current No. 7 team in the state, Katy Tompkins.