All Grizzlies want for Christmas is a little balance

Billy Hansen is very good. About that, there is little debate.

What the Ashland High boys' basketball team is still trying got figure out, however, is where its offense will come from when its star senior shooting guard is resting, missing or fighting his way through constant double teams every time down the court.

"The big key is," said junior point guard James Skinner, "other people have to step up."

But who? Heading into tonight's Ashland Rotary Hoops Classic game against Henley, the Grizzlies (3-3) have employed the HBBC (help Billy by committee) approach: Skinner, senior guard Ethan Schlecht, junior guard Jacob Finch and junior guard Jamie Flynn each have shown flashes of scoring potential. In Ashland's win over Hidden Valley on Dec. 6, Skinner, Flynn and Finch each scored in double-figures and combined for 34 points, possibly drafting a blueprint for future Grizzly success.

Hansen has led the Grizzlies in scoring in every game, averaging 22.2 points — nearly half of Ashland's 48.5 — but is ready to share the wealth in order to help the team win.

"Personally, I'm just trying every possession to get a bucket, and if I'm getting face-guarded or being double-teamed that means somebody else is going to be open," Hansen said, "so we're trying to do a better job spreading the ball around and letting more people contribute."

The sooner that happens, the more wins the Grizzlies are likely to end up with. The good news is, they have plenty of time. That's because like last season, Ashland and Eagle Point are the lone wolves of 5A boys basketball in southern Oregon and need only beat each other two out of three times in order to lock up a state playoff berth. The first game of that head-to-head series is still six weeks down the road — Jan. 31 at Eagle Point.

By then, the Grizzlies will have 19 games under their belt, which is just fine by Ashland head coach Larry Kellems.

"It works to our advantage," Kellems said, "because we need that time to get some of these young players up to par."

The "young players" Kellems is referring to are the first-year varsity players who are expected to see significant playing time: Skinner, Flynn and starting center Jack Carroll, a 6-foot-4 junior post, among others.

Of the new faces, Skinner probably faces the most steep learning curve. Going from junior varsity to varsity is already a daunting jump without having to worry about running an offense and distributing the ball. Kellems says the scrappy Skinner is handling the responsibility well, thanks to his smooth outside shooting stroke and pass-first mentality.

"(Skinner) has the ball in his hands a lot," Kellems said, "and he's doing an awesome job for us at point guard right now."

As the captain of the ship, Skinner will be called upon to keep one foot on the break this season. Walking the ball up court and patiently waiting for an opening is a departure from the up-tempo style Ashland has employed in recent years, but Kellems is looking at the big picture.

"I have to keep Eagle Point kind of in my vision," he said, "and we can't go up and down with Eagle Point. I just know it. They're physically superior to us."

Instead, the Grizzlies will try to execute their "dribble-drive penetration" offense as crisply as possible and hold opponents in check with scrappy — usually man-to-man —defense.

"I'm learning as a coach that when you don't have the scorers you just grind it out," Kellems said.

Hansen believes the Grizzlies have the right mentality to get the most out of their talent.

"The thing I like most about the team this year is our attitude, and how everybody comes to practice every day and really wants to get better," he said. "We don't have a lot of size, and we're not going to be the most athletic team, but I think what we do bring is a lot of passion to the game and we play our hearts out every time we get on the court.

"I think that's where we're going to have an advantage against some other teams. We're going to want it more."

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