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Greyhounds building up program under new coach

In his first year as a high school head coach Jake McGraw is focusing on fundamentals

Gaston boys basketball coach Jake McGraw has a lot on his plate as he takes over a program that won just five games last season, and the task seems even more daunting thanks to a busy early-season schedule.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KENT FRASURE
 - First-year Gaston boys basketball coach Jake McGraw talks with his players during a home game against Southwest Christian on Dec. 2.

“It feels sometimes like there’s not enough hours in the day,” said McGraw, who replaced former coach Marc Roche in late summer.

“I’m still getting used to this kind of schedule, because where I played we had a long preseason and here we have to jump right into league games almost as soon as the season starts. It’s tough, but it’s been going well so far.”

Roche led the Greyhounds to a pair of Northwest League championships and back-to-back Class 2A state playoff appearances during his three years at Gaston, but he moved up the road to coach the boys team at Banks this winter.

Enter McGraw, who accepted his first high school head coaching assignment and then began working with the team around the start of the school year.

“I took over just after summer ball and we started doing offseason workouts,” McGraw said. “I don’t know much about last year’s team, but I believe they had a pretty big senior class, so we’re still trying to sort out some things.

“What’s great is they’re on board and buying into what we’re saying, plus they’re also chipping in with info about teams that (the coaches) maybe haven’t seen before.”

There’s always an adjustment period for both the coaches and players when someone new takes over a program, but McGraw said things have gone smoothly so far.

The first-year head coach has some talent at his disposal, starting with seniors Ian Mann and Nick Steele. Mann, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound bruiser who also plays fullback for the football team, has a unique skill set due to his strength, and Steele is a versatile scorer and ballhandler.

“Ian is a really tough matchup because he can play anywhere from shooting guard to the low post,” McGraw said. “Plus his leadership is phenomenal. If you want to go to war with somebody, he’s the guy.

“Nick has a lot of ability with the ball in his hands, so we’re just trying to come up with ways to get him the ball.”

The rookie coach is also encouraged by what he’s seen from freshman Tristan Lund.

“He’s a kid that’s really impressed us. Even though he’s only a freshman, he’s stepped up as a leader, both verbally and non-verbally,” McGraw said. “He’s learning very quickly. His brain is like a sponge — it seems like he picks up on everything we tell him.”

The Hounds will be a bit undersized this season, with only three post players that measure 6-2 or taller — senior Jarad Davis, plus juniors Dylan Duckworth and Logan Patzlaff.

“Those guys are doing a good job of staying physical and getting after it,” McGraw said. “They’re definitely pulling their weight, especially against some of these teams with guys who are 6-4 or 6-5.”

While the season could be a challenge, it’s one that McGraw is relishing.

“I’m extremely excited for this opportunity,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life.”