They come at opposing teams in waves.
They aren’t just trouble for defenses, not double trouble for defenses… they are triple trouble.
Harper Creek features a triple threat at the guard position, a three-headed offensive machine that have singular individual talents, but work best when they are working together.
And the result has been three times the fun for the state-ranked Beavers.
Harper Creek is led by three senior guards in James Cadena, TraVon Johnson and Khylen Watkins – all averaging over 16 points per game and all comprising equal parts, worthy of equal credit for one of the best seasons in years for the Beavers boys’ basketball squad. Harper Creek is 14-2 on the season and opened the week ranked No. 6 in Class B.
“They are all really tough matchups. They all can shoot, they all can go off the dribble. Their overall offensive guard play is very strong. And you can’t play off them because they will shoot it and if you play up, they all go to the basket very well,” said Harper Creek boys’ basketball coach Matt Bowling. “It definitely gives you a headache and gray hair if you are going against that if you are another coach, I think. It’s tough when you see all those options coming at you. You take one away and the other two can have a monster game.”
That is the key to the success of Harper Creek this season. Many teams have a key offensive threat which is the center of the other team’s scouting report. The idea being, if you stop that one player, you have a good chance of being in the game at the end. Against Harper Creek, you can’t do that. With Cadena, Johnson and Watkins all able to score double digits on any night from anywhere on the floor, it has been very difficult to slow down the Beavers this season.
“I feel like teams can’t scout us because they aren’t sure where all the points are going to come from. It can come from any of us – anybody can have a good night. Whoever is on that night, we just get them the ball,” Johnson said.
Johnson leads the team with 19.3 points per game from his point guard position. Johnson also has a team-high 5.4 assists per game on the year and even grabs 4.9 rebounds a contest.
Harper Creek’s key outside shooting threat, Watkins averages 17.1 points per game and has a team-high 23 3-pointers on the season while also chipping in 2.5 assists a game.
Cadena can shoot and drive from his wing/guard position and averages 16.3 points per game, and the biggest of the three, he also leads the team in rebounding at 6.9 per game.
And a hidden reason for the success of the team is the Harper Creek post players – Jack Thompson and Brandon Hutson. That duo play good interior defense and key the fast break by getting the ball in the hands of the big three, allowing for the streaking guards to do their thing.
“We have three of us who can score, but the key is Brandon and Jack because they rebound so well and do a great job with outlet passes. It makes it easier for us to run the break,” Watkins said. “Other teams have to worry about all three of us. They can’t focus on one person and that puts teams in a bad spot.”
And they don’t just score. They score quickly.
Opposing teams know far too well that Harper Creek can put a 10-0 run on them at anytime and all of a sudden the game is out of hand.
“The reaction we see is that they don’t have time to react. It’s like we score so fast there is no reaction,” Cadena said. “Some times they are yelling at each other about getting back, like, ‘who’s got that guy?’ We see that a lot.”
This three guard offensive attack for Harper Creek is relatively new. Watkins and Johnson transferred into the Harper Creek district last year, and didn’t become eligible until the second half of the season.
But they play like they have been on the same team together for years.
“They might not necessarily have been together here for four years, but they have grown up together in AAU and playing at the park. They had a good relationship before they ever came in and it’s worked well from there,” Bowling said.
Longtime friends, Watkins said the trio have always talked about playing together at some point in high school and they are all glad it worked out that way. And you can’t argue with the results, according to Cadena.
“We have played together a lot, I’ve known them for a long time. When they came here, I didn’t know how it would translate to high school basketball, after mostly playing AAU and at the park, but when we got on this court at Harper Creek, it all came together and it has really meshed really well,” Cadena said.
The three guards are a part of a deeply experienced team that included six seniors who all had starting experience coming in – adding Colton Swims to the mix. The group won a district last season and advanced to the regionals before seeing their season come to an end in a loss to Otsego.
In their last year at Harper Creek, each is hoping the season lasts even longer this season.
“It’s all about the chemistry with those guys, all those returning seniors, they all click – the starters and Coleton, all together,” Bowling said. “They are all about winning, that’s all that matters to them. Not about who is scoring, or who is playing, it’s all about winning. And that doesn’t just come from them, it comes from their parents as a group. And when you put winning first, that makes a difference.”