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New chapter begins as challenges await for Washington boys

First-year coach Nelson eyes tough-minded team

12:00 AM, Dec. 04, 2012 EST

Senior forward Austin Benson practices a drill during practice last week. The Warriors hope to surprise some people this season under first-year coach Craig Nelson, who took over after Jim Trett stepped down. / Melissa Sue Gerrits / Argus Leader

Craig Nelson said he was ready for a challenge when he was hired in April to take over the Washington boys program for his first head coaching position.

Let the challenge begin.

The Warriors have no returning starters or top reserves from a team that finished 17-6 last year under Jim Trett, who stepped down after 18 seasons at the school, claiming state titles in 2001 and 2003.

"We have a lot of things to put in place with a short amount of time," said Nelson, a 27-year-old North Dakota native who was an assistant coach at Brandon Valley the past four seasons. "We need to build it from scratch, which is not such a bad thing. It's easier to build a new culture that way."

The Warriors will rely on the culture from another sport - football - to help gain an edge this season. The front line includes 6-foot-2, 219-pound forward Austin Benson and 6-9 268-pound center Grant Lewis, both prime performers on Washington's state champion gridiron squad.

"We hope some of that leadership carries over," said Nelson.

The interior toughness on defense probably won't hurt, either, especially as Washington tries to find its way offensively.

"(Benson) is just tough," said Nelson, a Northern State alum who played under Don Meyer. "He's not going to wow anybody with great offensive skill, but he'll get the job done every single night and do all the dirty work your team needs."

Lewis, said the coach, "gives us a big body in there that is very hard to move."

Forward Brett Stanley brings an inside-out game and could develop into the team's top scorer if all goes as planned.

"He's probably our most talented offensive player," said Nelson of the 6-3 junior. "He's working on understanding how to take on a bigger role, and we need him to take that role on."

The backcourt duties will be divided among a group of seniors that includes Ty Wiley, Trevor Bartlett and Alex Willis, with Sul Dibba also in the mix.

The style of play the Warriors employ will depend partly on how these guards develop into their roles, but Nelson plans to emphasize toughness and discipline in the early going.

The first-year coach knows what he's up against but is excited to get started, hoping to surprise some folks in the Class AA ranks.

"Pierre will be heavily favored to do some things, and Roosevelt could put together a run," said Nelson. "Outside of that, it seems like the state is wide open."



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