Uinta County Herald | Watsabaugh era begins for Red Devils hoops
After a 0-11 start to the 2019-20 season, the Evanston High School boys’ basketball team was on the cusp of something special – having battled back from that shaky start to win 12 of their next 15 games, Defy the Red Devils took the odds and qualified for a state tournament berth.
But all efforts to run a Cinderella in Casper have been derailed by the COVID-19 outbreak. The tournament was canceled and with it the hopes and dreams of teams across the state. Many of the teams – including Evanston – were on their way to Casper when the decision was made.
Red Devil Senior Carson Wall – a junior on that roster – remembers the day vividly.
“We stopped in Rawlins on the way to Casper and then we received the message that the tournament had been canceled,” Wall said in an interview last summer. “They brought us in and we all cried and hugged everyone. It was a sad day. “
Fellow senior Braxton Lind called the day a memorable one – for all the wrong reasons.
“I will never forget this day,” he said in early autumn. “We sat in this Rawlins gym and got the news. I’ve never seen so many emotional types in one room. It was crazy – and it was heartbreaking. “
Fast forward nine months, and the Red Devils will get a new look in the 2020-21 season. All-state players Mason Ellingford and Dawson Crofts, as well as David Baxter and Casey Periman, have closed. Head coach Lex Cornia is also gone, replaced by new head coach Rob Watsabaugh, who was a former assistant to the Wyoming Cowboys.
Evanston returns six players from his 2019-20 squad that ended the 12-14 season. Among them are two starters – Lind and Burke Thomas, who averaged 6.9 and 7.0 points per game, respectively. Other seniors are Wall, Jagger Mitchell, Stetson Wiedrich, and Wade Bowen.
The Red Devils kick off their 2020-21 campaign on the streets this weekend, starting with Sheridan on Thursday, followed by the REMAX tournament in Gillette on Friday and Saturday. First year coach Watsabaugh said the first two weeks of training went well despite COVID protocols and restrictions.
“It was good – we work hard and we keep up,” said Watsabaugh. “We were out in the mornings and afternoons. We’re very busy and want to set the tone and culture for the year with our boys. We have a lot to do with a new system in a short time. “
Watsabaugh said he was delighted with the work ethic and leadership of his six seniors, whom he credits the smooth transition to a new coach.
“Jagger Mitchell has a good work ethic and Braxton Lind has shown some of the qualities of a solid basketball player,” said Watsabaugh. “Besides Carson Wall and Burke Thomas, Stetson Weidrich is also a hard worker. They are all hungry, especially after what happened last year when the state tournament was canceled. You chew on the piece and want to get involved again. “
“Every senior we have got promoted somehow,” he added. “I give them credit for their improvement – I liked the energy and work ethic that they put into the practice.”
The new coach is also happy about the potential of his juniors and underclassmen.
“We had a good turnout in our junior class,” he said. “I am impressed with our sophomore students and I keep an eye on the newcomers. We have some good numbers there. Overall, I like the basketball IQ and talent, and the steps that can be taken to grow over the next few years. “
Still, there is still a lot to do.
“We’re making progress,” said Watsabaugh. “We still have a lot to do. I think we are taking steps in the right direction every day. But there will be a lot of changes for this team. There are two or three kids who watched a few college minutes last year, but it will be a big change for most of them to play at that college level. And it will be my first time to see them really compete against each other. “
Learning a new system can be difficult, but Watsabaugh said his team adapts well. Defense will be the key to the team’s success.
“I really want them to understand how to defend properly,” said Watsabaugh. “Learn to play man-to-man defense – we will play defensively as a team. I just want to be a tough team – tough, loud, we value basketball. I tell them every day, “You have to be ready to work and you have to be ready to get better every day.”
This season will be unprecedented in several ways due to the pandemic, not least in practice. Due to the restrictions in place, teams are not allowed to play more than 10 minutes per training session, which makes it difficult to duplicate situations in real game.
“We’re still trying to figure out how best to run real-world scenarios and still follow the protocol and keep everyone healthy,” said Watsabaugh. “That was really one of our bigger challenges – figuring out how hard we can do it and meet the guidelines. We want to do our part to stay healthy and safe and not get switched off. We hope the rest of the state does the same because we all want to have a full basketball season. That is our goal. ”
Working out of court will be challenging too, but a Watsabaugh looks forward to being the new head coach.
“Obviously I’m very, very excited to be the head coach,” he said. “Especially here in Evanston, where basketball has a good, strong tradition and great community support. I am very excited about this. There’s a lot behind this – there’s a lot to do with travel and logistics and browsing the COVID requirements. We need to be as creative as possible with our exercise plans and, as employees, figure out how best to do it. “
The Red Devils opening weekend will be a real test going against three teams currently in WyoPrep’s top 5 preseason. Evanston opened the season against Sheridan # 3 on Thursday, the team they were due to face in the opening round of the 4A State Tournament last March. The Red Devils play Thunder Basin No. 2 in the opening round of REMAX Tourney Friday. The opponent on Saturday is Gillette No. 5.
“It’s going to be a challenge right outside the gate,” said Watsabaugh of the Red Devils’ opening weekend. “Not just mentally and physically for our boys, but three games if they haven’t played since March. I have a little idea of how they play, but in practice we are also very limited in what we can do in scrimmaging. It will be important this weekend to see how the team comes together – how we fit, how we work, where we sit defensively. “