“No paint, no paint, no paint.”
Eight times, taking nary a breath in between, Piner boys basketball coach Mike Erickson sent his team this message at a recent practice: “No paint.”
I’m pretty sure that means he wants the Prospectors to keep the bigger Montgomery Vikings out of the key Friday night. But here’s where it gets sticky: Keep the Vikings out of the paint and they just may well kick it out it to senior Harvey Rouleau, perhaps the sharpest shooter in the Redwood Empire.
In short, the Prospectors will have their hands full in the North Bay League-Oak Division opener for both teams Friday. And, by the sound of it, Piner is ready.
“Harvey’s big. Monty’s going to be a tough game, but we’re ready for it,” four-year Prospector point guard Scott Erickson said. “I’ve been ready to play them since I was a freshman. It’s time to go.”
This game, and it should be a good one, marks the opening round of the new-look NBL. Piner, with heaps of varsity experience and gritty style, has been bumped up from the former Sonoma County League to the NBL-Oak Division, where the Prospectors will play the likes of Montgomery, Cardinal Newman and a Santa Rosa High team that has put together an early 10-2 record.
But Scott Erickson said the Prospectors are more than ready. He’s practically bouncing as he says it. Walking into Montgomery’s gym? A fairly inhospitable place if you aren’t a Viking? Bring it, he said.
“I’ve never played Monty, I’ve never played in that gym before and it’s time. It’s time to do it,” he said.
“Since freshman year our team wanted to play against the big dogs, Newman and Monty, and this year we finally get a chance to do it. I feel like we can compete and win that division,” he said.
The Prospectors bring more than grit to the game.
Senior Chris Gutierrez provides some inside muscle and regularly gets into double digits in both points and rebounds, Mike Erickson said.
“He battles around the basket,” he said. “He’s doing a real good job.”
Gutierrez was tasked with guarding Healdsburg’s big man Trey Chapman in the Prospectors’ last-second 41-40 loss to the ‘Hounds Saturday and held him largely in check, Erickson said.
But top to bottom, the Prospectors will have their hands full with a taller Montgomery squad that has put together a 7-3 record, defended their Brett Callan Memorial Tournament title and battled with some pretty good programs.
On top of that, Montgomery coach Zac Tiedeman said the Vikings were not playing up to snuff early on.
“We are still figuring ourselves out,” he said. “I don’t think we played well early in the year. I think we are starting to hopefully find our footing now. This group is starting to jell a little bit, understand their roles.”
Rouleau is coming off his tournament-MVP performance in the Brett Callan tournament, where he put up an average of 24 points per game, including sinking six 3-pointers in the opening game against Napa.
“He has a high IQ,” Tiedeman said. “He can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball. He really sees the game.”