A new era in Westlake boys basketball begins Tuesday night.
That’s when Shawn Hood, the former Cleveland State standout, makes his debut as the Demons’ head coach. Hood, who was hired last summer, takes his team to Rocky River for a non-conference matchup with the Pirates.
“I think we’re right where we need to be,” said Hood after a recent practice session. “I would imagine everyone’s at the same place and wishing they had a little bit more time to prepare.
“I feel good about our team. I feel like we have everything in that we need to have in. I don’t necessarily feel like we’re good at everything, but it’s a work in progress,” he said.
Hood welcomes back some experience from last year’s team, including seniors Max Rodriguez, Andrew Guiguis and Grant Gase. There’s also some size in the front court with 6-7 junior Brian Guzik and 6-8 sophomore Gavin Skelly.
There are plenty of other players on the roster who will give the Demons depth and flexibility in the lineup, according to Hood.
“After I first met the kids back in June, we went and played at a shootout,” Hood recalled. “I felt we were better than perhaps I anticipated. So right now, I feel like we have a chance to be pretty good.
“I think Shawn Turk, our starting two guard, is tough,” Hood said. “He epitomizes what I want in my players. He’s passionate, smart, tough physically and tough mentally.
“Grant Gase is probably our most complete player. He can shoot, pass, dribble and defend, both inside and outside. Shawn is definitely our most complete guard because he can score, shoot and drive. We had to play him at the point the other night, and I think he can do that for us as well.
“Gavin is one of our most talented players and he’s getting better every day. Overall, we have some really good depth. We feel we have 12 kids who can play,” he said.
Hood said there haven’t been too many surprises so far as his team prepares for River, last year’s Division II regional runner-up. What the first-year coach is looking for is more mental toughness from his team.
“I wish we were a little tougher mentally, though I’m sure every coach says the same thing,” Hood said. “I think that our mental toughness has not caught up to our talent. As soon as we get those two things in line, I think we have a chance to be very competitive.
“I think it’s important for a coach to continue to remind kids what mental toughness is. We want to see it right from the opening tip and all the way into the fourth quarter. We’re not going to blow anyone out, and hopefully we’re not going to get blown out, so most of our games are going to come down to the wire.
“That’s when you’ll know if the mental toughness is there. The team that has it in that first game is probably going to win. And since I want to win, I hope it shows up for us on Tuesday,” he added.
Hood said he’ll be looking for his players to execute the little things on a consistent basis early on this season.
“Our entire philosophy really does follow the “kiss” theory,” Hood said smiling. “We are as simple as it comes. We are not going to trick people out there. We’re going to play man-to-man defense and we’re going to run a motion offense.
“It’s really about execution for us. We won’t change, no matter who we play. So really, the only expectation all season long will be that we move toward reaching our potential as a basketball team in every area: offensively, defensively, ball handling, screening, in all those simple little things we do.