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Tait Spencer’s time has arrived with Battle Ground boys basketball

Conversations with former teammate Kaden Perry, offseason work help high-scoring sophomore grow

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Battle Ground sophomore Tait Spencer, left, goes for a layup during a scrimmage on Wednesday, Dec. 22, at Battle Ground High School.
Battle Ground sophomore Tait Spencer, left, goes for a layup during a scrimmage on Wednesday, Dec. 22, at Battle Ground High School. (Will Denner/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A booming voice echoes across the Battle Ground High gym to sophomore Tait Spencer, delivering a reminder of what he’s working toward.

“Tait, I don’t know what you guys are doing, but you better be loud,” said Kaden Perry, Spencer’s former teammate.

Spencer and some of his teammates are getting shots up in the gym while Perry, now a freshman at Gonzaga, is back at his alma mater to work out during the holiday break. The circumstances are much different than several months ago for Spencer and Battle Ground, but the message from Perry remains the same.

Spencer stepped in last spring as a quiet, unassuming freshman on a veteran Battle Ground team led by Perry. It was an intimidating environment for any young player to walk into.

Everyone knew Spencer could play. He was on a very short list of freshmen to make Battle Ground’s varsity team in recent memory. He just needed a little encouragement from teammates.

Perry, in particular, was there to fire him up.

“I was nervous,” Spencer recalled. “I didn’t really talk to anybody last year. (Kaden) told me to talk, and that’s what’s been going on this year.”

Now, Spencer is carrying the torch at Battle Ground while continuing to find his voice. When he’s not talking, well, his game is certainly doing that for him.

Through five games, Spencer is averaging 32.8 points per game, a scoring clip that has former and current coaches offering high praise for the 6-foot-2 sophomore. He has the trust of his teammates, all of whom are juniors or younger, and his head coach, Kevin Kalian, to be the Tigers’ focal point.

“Going forward, I keep telling him, just keep doing you,” Kalian said. “I trust him. I knew him last year on varsity being a freshman … I’ve had no regrets of anything with him. Just letting him play his game, and it’s paid off well.”

When the Tigers convened last spring for a condensed season, coaches and teammates saw Spencer’s obvious potential as a crafty scorer and playmaker. Off the court, his reserved nature reminded Perry of himself as a freshman.

“He was a real quiet kid, something that I, myself, was a lot (like),” Perry said. “I came in with a bunch of older guys my freshman year of high school and I know how intimidating it was. I wasn’t talking to anyone. I had a couple people kind of pry me and they became close friends, so I kind of wanted to be that for Tait.”

The senior often took the freshman aside, encouraging him to use his voice more, to be more talkative with the rest of the team. He also saw Spencer’s budding potential and made sure to let the freshman know about it.

“I saw the skill he had, and that’s one thing he didn’t have to be very talkative about. You could see how good he was on the court,” Perry said. “I know once I was able to connect with the guys more and I wasn’t so nervous about every mistake, it was a lot easier. So I was trying to be that bridge for him. Talking is a really good skill to have on the court and I’d love to give that to him. … I knew how much potential he had. Any time I didn’t hear him on the court, I was like, ‘Tait, come on, let’s go!’ ”

Spencer took guidance from Perry to heart. Looking back, he said those moments helped loosen him up and “be free about the game.”

“It helped me a lot,” Spencer said, “because I want to go places like where he’s going.”

Perry suffered a back injury just five games into the spring, leaving the Tigers without their star for the final 10 games of the season. All of a sudden, Spencer found himself in a starring role.

“Once Kaden went down, especially, (Spencer) kind of just took the reins and said, ‘All right, this is my time,’ ” said Manny Melo, Battle Ground’s former head coach, now athletic director at Prairie.

Spencer had a knack for scoring, putting on moves that often led right to the rim. What he didn’t yet have was a reliable outside shot.

During a summer trip to Las Vegas with the Pacific Northwest 15U Sixers, Spencer made just one 3-pointer during the course of the tournament. One of Spencer’s coaches told him to work on his shooting, in addition to his right, non-dominant side for the lefty.

Without any further prompting, Spencer made it his goal to get 500 shots up every day. He hasn’t stopped since. Through five games this season, he’s made 19-of-34 attempts from deep.

“He’ll work 24/7 and never takes any days off,” Melo said. “You almost have to beg him to take any time off. He’s just a grinder … that’s literally the definition of him, is just a pure grinder that loves the game.”

Spencer’s refined shooting stood out to Skyview head coach Matt Gruhler ahead of two Greater St. Helens League teams meeting on Dec. 14.

Because coaches in the league all share film with one another, just about any game clip is available for scouting purposes. Skyview was well aware of what Spencer was doing, Gruhler said, and still had a hard time stopping him.

Spencer poured in 43 points, including 18 in the third quarter, giving the Tigers a seven-point lead entering the final quarter before Skyview came back to win 77-68.

“It’s one thing to be a focal point of an offense, it’s another thing to be a focal point and still back it up,” Gruhler said. “That was the impressive thing about him.”

At one point, Spencer had the ball in his hands as the Skyview student section counted down the shot clock, hoping to trick the sophomore into shooting with a few seconds left. Spencer took the bait, pulling up from 30 feet and draining one of his four 3-pointers.

“I just wanted to go over and tell my student section to be quiet, like, we don’t want him to shoot the ball, so please don’t encourage him even if it is at the shot clock,” Gruhler said.

The performance further amplified Spencer’s loud start to the season, which he said has been helped by having shooters like Noah Currie, Trey Spencer and Ty Robertson and big man Austin Ralphs surrounding him.

“I’m excited to see what the next two years will bring, what kind of player he turns into then,” Kalian said. “He can definitely be one of those top players here, even in the county or possibly state. You just don’t know how things go, but definitely the way he’s playing, he’s on the path for a great time.”

Added Perry: “He’s just going to get so much better as his game progresses, as he gets older and wiser. It’s going to be crazy.”

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