Young Vikings looking to change culture of boys hoops program

<p> The Umatilla boys basketball team scrimmages at practice last week as new head coach Derrek Lete, near, looks on.</p>

The Umatilla boys basketball team is hoping to bounce back this year after a couple of one-win seasons.

First year Viking head coach Derrek Lete, however, is no stranger to the local hoops scene. He came to the Vikings by way of the Echo Cougars girls basketball program.

Last season, Lete led the Cougars to the first round of the 1A state tournament.

Lete said his players are ready for a change. Umatilla changed its logo this season in an effort to add some excitement into the program. Lete said that got his players excited, but they are also buying into his philosophy.

“We are just preaching relentlessness this season,” Lete said. “We want to play hard. We want to play together as a family. It’s been really positive so far.”

Junior point guard Eric Garcia said playing together as a team will be important.

“That’s something we’ve lacked in past years,” he said. “We really are a family out there, and if we can play together on the court, we’ll have more success.”

Fellow junior Isaac Murguia agreed.

“Team chemistry matters,” he said. “I can already tell we will have great chemistry this season. The guys have really bonded together. That was a problem last year.”

Lete noted the program as a whole needed to make some changes to get out of the rut its been in the last two seasons.

“It starts with the little things,” he said. “If you start with the little things, pretty soon they’ll add up to bigger change. I think our team is really buying in. They want and seem willing to make the necessary changes.”

Murguia, a forward, concurred.

“For the past couple of years we haven’t been executing the small details of the game,” he said. “It really starts there. Our first focus will be changing that.”

Lete said part of the change on the court will be injecting his style of offense into the team. He said the team has the athletes required to be successful.

“We will be able to do what we want,” Lete said. “We’ve got a bunch of guards and a lot of guys that will be able to get out in transition and run the floor. I anticipate us getting out and running whenever we get the chance.”

With an influx of guards, Lete said floor spacing will be crucial to an effective offense.

“We are going to spread the floor,” he said. “The key for us will be making teams guard us out on the perimeter. That way, we can use some of our speed to our advantage. Also, we’ll need to make shots.”

As a first year coach at Umatilla, Lete said there will be a few challenges, most notably, a lack of senior leadership. The Vikings do not have a single senior on the roster.

“I think as a first-year coach here it’s kind of a good and bad thing,” Lete said. “It’s always nice to have senior leaders. For whatever reason, they seem to know how to navigate through a tough season. They just have a little more maturity.”

Lete did say he has a strong junior class that will be up to the challenge of taking on that leadership role.

“I’ve got some pretty high expectations for our juniors,” he said. “This season is going to give them a great opportunity. We are counting on them. They are ready to lead this team.”

Garcia said the junior class is excited to have that responsibility.

“I’m focusing on becoming a better communicator out on the court,” Garcia said. “As a point guard, I have to make sure everyone is on the same page. We are a young team so it will be critical that we talk out there.”

Lete said another challenge facing his club this season is opening with a number of road games.

“We actually open the season at home against Yakama Tribal, but then we hit the road for a pretty good stretch of games,” he said. “It will be a pretty good indicator of how our season will go in terms of record, but it will only make us better in the long run. The adversity of not having that home court advantage will toughen us up.”

Lete said he knows the power of playing at home, and he hopes his team understands it as well.

“A focus of ours will be protecting home court,” he said. “This is our home, and we don’t lose here. That’s the mentality you have to have if you want to be a good team.”

Lete also said, to be a good team, the Vikings have to change the day-to-day culture of the program.

“Our goal is to get better every day,” Lete said. “Every day, we will ask ourselves if we got better. If we can consistently answer yes to that question, hopefully we’ll see some positive things in the win/loss column.”

Lete said it all starts with competing.

“That’s how you get better,” he said. “You compete against your teammates in practice every day, and you compete against the opponent during a game. That’s one thing we’ll always be able to control. Regardless of wins and losses, if we compete time in and time out it will be a successful season.”

The Vikings open on Dec. 4 against Yakama Tribal.

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