With four starters having graduated off Gunn’s boys' basketball league championship team, question marks were in plentiful supply heading into Wednesday’s season opener.
But with a big boost from the one returning starter, Jeffrey Lee-Heidenreich, the Titans had no trouble, beating Pioneer, 77-58, in the opening round of the James Lick Invitational Tournament.
Gunn will play host James Lick in the semifinals on Friday at 8 p.m. The Comets advanced with a 72-39 win over San Jose. Wilcox (a 60-41 winner over Silver Creek) and Harker (74-38 victors over Andrew Hill) will play in the other semifinal. The championship game will take place Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Lee-Heidenreich, a 6-foot-6 senior headed to Princeton, went off for 24 points and 22 rebounds. His points came on 12-of-17 shooting. He also had three blocked shots.
“It will be interesting this year with seven or eight seniors gone including a two-time MVP (Alex Gill),’’ Gunn coach Brandynn Williams said. “Any Given Sunday. Rotations will be different every game. (Lee-Heidenreich) will be the big focal point for this team.’’
An extremely mobile big man, on numerous occasions Lee-Heidenreich grabbed a defensive rebound and then took the ball the length of the court on the dribble for a basket of his own, or to dish off for a teammate’s opportunity.
However, at times playing with perhaps a bit too much opening-night exuberance, several of his passes missed their mark and he ended up with 14 turnovers -- for a triple-double he wasn’t aiming for.
“We played real hard and put in a good effort,’’ Lee-Heidenreich said. “We played together, and that’s what’s important. There are definitely some things we need to clean up. I need to get better with my ball handling and open up opportunities for everyone else.’’
Lee-Heidenreich, who high jumps 6-8, will compete in track and field at Princeton. Williams thinks he could play basketball at that level as well.
“He’s one of the best finishers in the open court I’ve ever seen,’’ Williams said. “He has a ton of energy. A great kid, never an issue, never a problem.’’
The game was played at a high tempo with both teams fast-breaking at every opportunity. Gunn had a 10-6 lead before Pioneer went on a 15-0 run. The Titans trailed 23-14 at the end of the first quarter.
But once the Mustangs cooled off Gunn righted itself and pulled into a 33-32 lead at halftime.
A 16-4 run to start the third quarter gave Gunn a seemingly comfortable lead at 49-36. But Pioneer closed to 56-52 early in the fourth quarter before Gunn put the game away with a 13-1 blitz.
“That was a crazy game,’’ Williams said. “They came out hitting their shots and we were real nervous. We played better in the second half. Defense is the key for us.’’
Demario Shepard scored 17 for Gunn.
“Demario is a wild card,’’ Williams said. “He’s a great athlete and a gym rat. I have to open the gym for him at 6 a.m. He’s really been a bright spot. Love his energy.’’