Wolverines look for right chemistry

Just call Bellevue boys basketball coach Chris O’Connor the Mad Chemist.

Bellevue hopes to improve on disappointing end to last season

Just call Bellevue boys basketball coach Chris O’Connor the Mad Chemist.

After the Wolverines, who had state title hopes last season, fell in districts in disappointing fashion, it didn’t take O’Connor long to find what was missing in his team’s formula. The component was chemistry, more specifically, a lack of it.

Whether it was a lack of time (players Aaron Bright and Colton Christian arrived only a few months before the season began), injuries (Alex Schrempf missed most the year) or just too much individual talent, the Wolverines never seemed to fully come together last year.

The result was a surprising opening round lost to West Seattle in districts which led to an elimination game against Seattle Prep in which Bellevue came up short to finish its year 19-7. Goodbye state tournament hopes.

“We just didn’t have that chemistry that we needed to be successful last year,” O’Connor said. “We had the guys, but it is hard to have successful seasons when you don’t have the chemistry.”

So O’Connor’s main offseason priority became clear: help the Wolverines build that chemistry, and find the final piece of the formula to get Bellevue, who returns starters in Bright, Christian, Schrempf and Matt Olson, back to state.

To build that camaraderie, the Wolverines worked on team bonding, traveling together in summer games, including a Gonzaga tournament that players point to as a turning point for the program.

“The bonding experience there is what really brought us together - living together, eating together for a whole week,” said Olson, a 6-foot-7 senior forward. “Last season was definitely a disappointment and we don’t want another season like that. We took that into this summer and really took it to heart.”

But for all the improvements off-court, there were still some adjustments to be had on the floor.

One has been moving Bright, a junior who led Bellevue last year with 16.7 points per game, from shooting guard to point guard.

“Aaron has really adjusted his game to the betterment of the team,” O’Connor said. “He’s really distributing the ball nicely, helping to get his teammates the ball in the right spots.

“But he’s also a playmaker who has the ability to shoot it and score himself. Over the past year he’s been trying to transform himself into a true point guard, and that takes time too.”

Bright, who transferred from Issaquah to Bellevue last September, sees the move as “another part of growing up.”

“We’ve got so much talent on the team that I am really trying to get 4-5 guys each game in double figures,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team, putting aside my personal goals.”

So far its working. Bellevue is off to a 4-1 start, its only loss coming last Saturday to reigning 6A Oregon State champion Grant High School of Portland, Ore., who beat the Wolverines 64-52 off the strength of 6-foot-8 forward and UCLA commit Mike Moser’s 25 points and 11 rebounds.

But it’s not just the record that counts - it’s the way they’re doing it. In Bellevue’s four wins, two of them have seen four players score in double figures. Only once have fewer than three scored more than 10 points.

In the new-look KingCo 3A conference, which saw district qualifiers Issaquah and Skyline move up to KingCo 4A, Bellevue looks to be the class of the conference. Just don’t tell them that.

“You read it, you look at it, but you gotta prove it,” Olson said. “You gotta earn it.”

Joel Willits can be reached at 425-453-5045 or at jwillits@bellevuenews.us.