Greg Jayne: Prairie quickly showing it's still good

Commentary: Greg Jayne

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

Consider this a warning. Or maybe just a suggestion. Or perhaps simply some words of wisdom.

But it goes out to all the girls basketball coaches in the state: Do not challenge Prairie to beat you off the dribble. Do not press the Falcons. Do not try to play the game at their tempo.

Prairie, you see, will simply Cuisinart your hide and turn you into paté.

"We still play fast," junior Nicole Goecke said. "That's pretty much how Prairie girls basketball has been forever. That's what you expect when you come into the program."

This will come as no surprise, considering the Falcons returned an impressive nucleus from last year's team that happened to win the Class 3A state championship. Yet it is a bit of a revelation, considering the Falcons are in their first year under coach Mike Smith.

Would this be the end of the dynasty? Would this give hope to other girls basketball teams in the area? Would this be the beginning of the downfall?

I got to watch Prairie for the first time Friday, against Union. And the answers to those questions were a resounding "no."

The Falcons are still good, and yet they are different. It's a function more of personnel than coaching, but they are different. Prairie's starting lineup goes 5-foot-7, 5-7, 5-9, 5-9, 5-9, and they all run like greyhounds and can handle the ball.

I know, I know. Big news: Prairie has talented basketball players. Whoop-de-doo. But in continuing their interchangeable-parts ethos, the Falcons are reflecting profound changes that have swept basketball all the way from the NBA to youth leagues.

What once was a center-dominated sport, where size mattered and the goal was to work the ball inside to post players, has become a dribble-drive, kick-the-ball-out, shoot- the-3 competition.

Need proof? The NBA is so devoid of dominant big men these days that the league has eliminated the center position from its All-Star ballot and instead invites fans to vote for three "frontcourt" players.

Why, no true center has won an NBA MVP award since Shaquille O'Neal in 1999-2000, and the reason is that ball-handlers and athletic forwards now dominate the sport. The game is better for it, growing in terms of athleticism and entertainment value.

This is nothing new for Prairie. The Falcons played the same way in recent years, but they also had a 6-foot-1 point guard in Heather Corral to provide some size.

Now? Nothing but quickness.

"You'd eventually like a big girl," Smith said. "But we're going with speed."

At least until now. The next time the Falcons take the court, 6-foot-2 Kaitlyn Sitton will have completed the 10 required practices to become eligible.

She came out for basketball late after helping Prairie win a state title in volleyball, and she might be the final piece for another run at a state title.

"I talked to my captains and to the team," Smith said. "They agreed that we do need a bigger body out there. When we get to the playoffs, we're going to see bigger players."

In the meantime, the Falcons are proving that speed kills. Opposing coaches should consider themselves warned.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jaynecolumbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne