Union boys basketball coaches sometimes ask themselves a hypothetical question about their top player: how would they guard Yanni Fassilis?
The Titans’ versatile 6-foot-5 forward was already a matchup nightmare for opponents as a junior with his blend of shooting, ball-handling, post moves and defensive prowess.
Then, Fassilis worked tirelessly this offseason to transform his body into a faster, more athletic version of himself.
Union and head coach Blake Conley saw an opportunity to make Fassilis an even tougher guard by having him initiate the team’s offense and be more of a lead playmaker.
“He’s just such a hard matchup,” Conley said. “He can handle the ball, he can run, he can pass, he can do all those things. But then also, he didn’t lose his strength. He still is a beast down there (in the post) … We don’t want to put him in a box. He can do so many things; we’re going to have him do that.”
The Titans debuted the new look in their season opener Saturday afternoon against North Kitsap and the result, a 96-64 Union win, offered a promising first glimpse.
Fassilis poured in 32 points, including 19 in the first half as the Titans built a 22-point lead, plus 12 rebounds and eight assists. Seniors Evan Manville and Josiah Baldassere added 16 and 10 points, respectively, and sophomore Kody Holcomb scored 13 points.
“We didn’t have a lot of time in practice, a lot less time than usual, to put stuff in … we kind of came in blind,” Fassilis said. “I’m just glad we came out, played hard, got the jump on them early and just kept our composure throughout. … For a first game and a brand new team, I thought we held it together pretty well.”
Fassilis and Baldassere are the only two returners who played substantial minutes last season, but even for Fassilis, stepping into a new role this season is an adjustment.
“Last year I was more just a scorer (and) defense guy,” Fassilis said. “This year I have to get the team in the offense a lot more. A lot more playmaking I have to take care of for the team. Honestly, I’m still kind of carving out my role and seeing what I expect of myself this year. I definitely have high hopes for this team and think we should go very far.”
Rotations have yet to be fully worked out, but for a team that used as few as six players at times last season, the Titans appear to be deeper now.
Against North Kitsap, the third-place finisher at last season’s Class 2A state tournament, Union’s starting five also featured Baldassere, Samair Thompson, Holcomb and Manville, who’s back from an ankle/foot injury that took away most of his junior year.
“It’s awesome to see him playing out there, honestly, just the joy I had seeing him,” Conley said of Manville. “The kid loves basketball and he’s put in so much time.”
Off the bench, junior Tucker Dunseth added nine points and senior Jayden Cardiel, a transfer from Heritage, chipped in eight points.
The Titans opened the season against a powerhouse in North Kitsap, and they will continue a challenging schedule next weekend with games against Lake City (Idaho) and Lewis & Clark as part of the The Dan Fitzgerald Memorial Basketball Showcase in Spokane. Union also plays non-league games against Mount Si, Tahoma and Kentwood in December.
“We talked about having Union effort and Union energy, and I thought they had that tonight,” Conley said. “If we can do that, and then clean up a lot of stuff we need to clean up, I think it will be a fun season and we’ll max out our potential — whatever that is.”
UNION 96, NORTH KITSAP 64
NORTH KITSAP — Jalen East 6, Mason Chmielewski 3, Tristan Mass 0, Ethan Gillespie 5, Cade Orness 23, Harry Davies 21, Jonas Funston 0, Jay Ashford-Downing 0, Ben Eisenhart 1, Nico Marrero 2, Jaxson Korsak 3. Totals 17 (7) 23-31 64.
UNION — Nolan Frazier 2, Jayden Cardiel 8, Josiah Baldassare 10, Samair Thompson 4, Kody Holcomb 13, Yanni Fassilis 32, Nick Burchett 2, Tucker Dunseth 9, Evan Manville 16. Totals 34 (6) 22-27 96.
North Kitsap 17 12 16 19—64
Union 26 25 22 23—96