Washington showing balance early in season

Washington senior Devon Vanderheydt goes up for a layup on Jan. 9 at Peoria Notre Dame.
Washington senior Devon Vanderheydt goes up for a layup on Jan. 9 at Peoria Notre Dame. Photo by Josh Schwam.

Washington boys basketball coach Eric Schermerhorn has an extremely disciplined team that knows what it takes to win. The Panthers (2-1) are well-balanced on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and that will certainly play to the reigning Mid-Illini Conference champions’ advantage this season. Seniors Devon Vanderheydt, Tyler Bass and Ethan Mountz have been consistent in the scoring column, while juniors Drew Lewis and Isaac Mapson have also filled up box scores with points, assists, and rebounds.

Washington got off to a great start last week by defeating Limestone twice. 12 players entered the scoring column as the Panthers earned a 66-40 road win. Washington wouldn’t slow down on Saturday as Vanderheydt scored 24 points to lead his team to an 83-55 home win. Tuesday, Washington ran into arguably the top Class 3A team in the state, Peoria Notre Dame. ND (4-0) recorded a 67-53 non-conference home win as Noah Reynolds (28 points) and Juan Madrigal (20) led the Irish. Washington was paced by Vanderheydt (22) and Mapson (19).

“We said at the beginning of the season that we were going to be a player-led team. We have three really good seniors that take the underclassmen under their wings and teach them the culture,” said Bass, a 6-foot-5 forward. “You are starting to see how it is all coming together.”

Bass, a Loras College commit, has been a key piece for Washington as his attitude, size and athleticism has turned him into a veteran leader for Schermerhorn’s team.

“We have had one-on-one workouts and have each been working on our craft,” Bass added. “In these last few weeks we have all brought it back together. It is starting to show.”

Much like Bass, Vanderheydt is one of the most instrumental pieces on the roster. The son of former Creighton player Jerry Vanderheydt, Devon can light it up from beyond the arc, and uses his 210-pound frame to assert himself in the low-post for second chance points and rebounds.

“You can’t just have one leader on the floor, and those can’t just be the seniors. We have to have a team of leaders,” said Vanderheydt. “I texted coach (Schermerhorn) and told him that a team of leaders is a team that wins, and that is what we have stuck with.”

Washington, which finished 19-13 last season, prides themselves on the defensive end. The Panthers use their pressure to force turnovers, which has resulted in transition buckets early on.

“In practice we have something called the ‘Turkey,’ which is when you get three defensive stops in a row, so we usually hear someone yelling ‘Turkey’ from the bench,” added Vanderheydt. “You have to get those three defensive stops before you can go score.”

Washington’s next opponent is M-I rival Morton, which is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Potterdome, followed by 7 p.m. Tuesday when they host the Potters (4-0) at Torrey Gym.

“I would like to think we have eight guys on our roster that can score in double figures on any given night,” Schermerhorn said. “We just have to keep that turbulence.”

But Schermerhorn credits the late Coach Kevin Brown, who helped create a winning culture at Washington. He stated that years alongside Brown as his assistant coach helped form him into the coach that he is today.

“Coach Brown started all of this, and that is the intensity that he brought every night,” Schermerhorn added. “The culture that he taught me is that we celebrate toughness, we celebrate the guy who gets scrappy, and we celebrate the things that people don’t always see.”

John Komosa can be reached at jkomsports@gmail.com. Follow on Twitter @Jkom91.

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