The Chimacum High School boys basketball program has been in a rough cycle the past four years. New coach, new system, very little continuity.
And it’s been on repeat.
The Cowboys have four seniors, three of whom have been in the program all four years. Outside of their freshman seasons, when they played on the junior varsity, they can count the number of wins on one hand.
They didn’t get one at all last year.
“It doesn’t feel good, but when you lose, you learn a lot about yourself,” senior guard Issac Purser said.
Purser helped snap the skid that went back almost two years on Jan. 14 when he hit four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and finished with 19 points in Chimacum’s 71-57 home victory against Chief Kitsap Academy.
Junior guard Henry Brebberman tallied 18 points and junior forward Jacob Williamson added 14 for the Cowboys (2-10). Chimacum opened it up in the final period with a 24-12 run against the Bears (2-10).
Chimacum put together back-to-back victories with a 78-59 win at Summit Olympus on Jan 16. Purser again led the way, tallying 29 points. Brebberman contributed 14 points, and junior forward Cody Clark had 10.
Before last week, the Cowboys hadn’t won since Feb. 4, 2017.
“We won the last two games because we played disciplined ball relative to our opponent,” said Chimacum coach Mark Bennett, a tax accountant who moved to the area and maintains clients in the Seattle metro area.
Bennett is the third consecutive first-year coach. Dave Porter, a longtime assistant, joined the staff several weeks into the season. Bennett’s experience is highlighted by a stint from 1985-90 at a small school in Bermuda — “smaller than here,” he said.
The Chimacum program has been in flux since Jim Eldridge retired following the 2015-16 season.
“Each coach wants to do their own thing,” Purser said. “They want to be able to build their program.”
That’s a challenge when they’ve been one-and-done.
“We’ve run a different offense all four years,” Purser said. “Coaches want to come in and do something different.”
Changing the culture
While the Cowboys step out on the court to compete, they’ve had trouble getting over the mental block that prevents them from succeeding.
“The culture at all of Chimacum is a losing mentality,” Purser said, “in every sport except baseball.”
Bennett has worked to break that down, to focus on small victories such as getting open on a pick-and-roll play, even if the ball doesn’t end up in the basket.
He has a simple question to measure the basics of success.
“Did you do your best?” Bennett said. “It’s a common answer, but I believe it.
“I don’t think we’ve done our best,” he added, “so we haven’t succeeded.”
That’s where he sets his foundation.
“You get a legitimate expectation of winning if you do the work,” Bennett said.
The players have noticed.
In the past couple of years, some players didn’t always show up, Purser said. And when they did, he said they didn’t always know what they were supposed to do.
“(Bennett) is always on top of everything, communicating with us, knowing what’s going on,” Purser said.
The challenge also is mental, particularly when they come up short on the scoreboard.
“We’ve gotten blown out a few times this year,” Purser said. “He just tells us to keep going, don’t give up.”
Senior forward Jonah Diehl said Bennett’s good attitude rubs off on the players.
“If we’re down about something, he’ll tell us to forget about it, just focus on something else,” Diehl said.
Purser happens to be Bennett’s neighbor and has done yardwork for him. When the Cowboys weren’t getting many applications to take on head coaching duties this season, Purser turned to Bennett.
And the coach has responded not only by focusing on basketball but by working on mental approach, too.
“It’s not even the losses,” Bennett said. “It’s when they make mistakes.”
That’s when he can start to see a transition from a team whose players hang their heads in defeat to a team that starts well and competes.
“What you have to do is focus on the successes,” Bennett said. “You spotlight it when they do it right.
“Reinforce the positive and then they will repeat it the way you want them to do it.”
Bennett also has reached out to Chimacum girls coach Trevor Huntingford, whose Cowboys wrapped up their first league championship in school history earlier this month.
“Trevor has been very helpful for what we need,” Bennett said. “We’re establishing normal expectations.”
Purser, Diehl and senior forward Cole Dotson have been through the wringer when it comes to “normal.” Now it’s about setting the tone for the future.
“You just have to go out there and play your best, no matter what,” Diehl said.
Purser has another goal in mind.
“I want to help make all the young kids better,” he said. “I don’t want them to go through what I went through.”