Boys Basketball: The Union Way leads the way

Ethan Smith another example of how the Titans always find new talent to step in year after year

VANCOUVER — Ethan who?

Ethan Smith. Remember that name.

Why?

He’s not a household name … yet, but he could be soon. After all, he plays for the Union boys basketball team.

Ethan Smith (23) is all smiles after he tied Union’s record with seven 3-pointers in a game Tuesday against Evergreen. Smith is one of the new players to the varsity for the Titans this season. Zach Reznick (12) is already a household name for one of the top programs in the state. Photo by Paul Valencia
Ethan Smith (23) is all smiles after he tied Union’s record with seven 3-pointers in a game Tuesday against Evergreen. Smith is one of the new players to the varsity for the Titans this season. Tyler Combs (12) is already a household name for one of the top programs in the state. Photo by Paul Valencia

And those who play for Union, whether a starter or a role player, always seem to have at least one or two special moments a season. They always seem to do the little jobs necessary for a program to have sustained success.

That has been the key to Union’s run for years. Sure, the team usually has a star. But it has always been about the guys who people outside of the program had never really heard of before they stepped to the varsity stage.

Basketball fans know Zach Reznick and Tyler Combs now. They are today’s leaders, all-league returners for the Titans. But a couple years ago, they were just a couple guys making things happen here and there, complementing the older, more established players.

This is how Union keeps doing Union things on the basketball floor. The Titans finished second in the Class 4A state tournament last season and took fourth in the 2015-16 campaign. They made the semifinals and finished third in the winter of 2015. 

In all, they have gone to state in six of the past nine seasons and have brought home trophies in all six of those appearances.

The Titans call it the Union Way.

Zach Reznick (10) and Tyler Combs (12) are both first-team, all-league returners for the Union Titans. They are 3-point specialists who also can take advantage of a defense to drive to the hoop. Photos by Mike Schultz
Zach Reznick (10) and Tyler Combs (12) are both first-team, all-league returners for the Union Titans. They are 3-point specialists who also can take advantage of a defense to drive to the hoop. Photos by Mike Schultz

Tuesday night at Evergreen High School, it was Ethan Smith leading the way. He tied a school record with seven 3-pointers in a game and finished with a career-high of 27 points in what turned into an 86-57 victory.

Don’t think for a second that this was “garbage-time” minutes when he did all his scoring. Smith had 13 of his points in the third quarter, when Union turned a three-point halftime lead into a rout. Union outscored the Plainsmen 30-9 in the period.

“It’s just my teammates,” Smith said, giving credit to the rest of the Titans. “They were setting me great screens and finding me open shots to shoot. It’s a product of the team.”

In fact, after a lackluster performance at Kentwood last weekend, the Titans put an emphasis on passing.

“Before the game, we talked about ball movement,” Smith said. “That showed tonight.”

“We focused on moving the ball, making a great pass,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “Let’s shoot great shots instead of good shots.”

It was a record-breaking team performance, too. The Titans made 15 3-pointers.

There was a least one shot that was not exactly a good one. But it was Smith’s night, so it found the bottom of the net, too.

He knew it was about that time for him to come out of the game. So, yeah, he acknowledged he was going to shoot it the next time he touched the ball, no matter where the defense was located. Sure enough, with an Evergreen player all over him, Smith caught the ball and immediately launched another 3-pointer. Good.

“That was a little bit of a heat-check there,” Smith said. “Just trying to shoot and see what happens.”

By then, the Union coaches, players, and fans could not get enough of watching this performance from a player who was on junior varsity all last season. The student section started chanting MVP.

“When they started (to) say it, I was definitely shocked,” Smith said.

Then reality struck him.

“It feels great, but it’s only the third game of the season,” he said.

Still, this is one of those games that showcases another mainstay of the Union way. The players are selfless.

Early in the fourth quarter, five Titans were at the scorer’s table, ready to substitute for the five players on the court. Quinn Lamey was about to go in for Smith. But Lamey understood what was happening on the court. Lamey was not about to go in for a guy who could not miss. So he walked back to the bench.

Instead of being disappointed about losing a couple minutes of playing time, Lamey was genuinely thrilled for his teammate.

His coaches noticed, and gave Lamey a shout-out in the post-game meeting.

As far as Evergreen, the Plainsmen showed quite a bit of life in this one, especially considering they had played a close game on Monday night. Evergreen, a 3A program, had an early eight-point lead over the Titans and trailed by just three points at the half to one of the best 4A programs in the state. Sure, Union got the best of Evergreen in the second half, but the Plainsmen showed some promise.

For the most part, December basketball games are used to prepare for the grind of league play in January. For all teams at all levels.

On Tuesday night, the Titans found their passing game again, then found their groove from 3-point range.

Conley said while this squad might not be as hyped as previous seasons, it is capable of making it back to the Tacoma Dome.

“We have a long way to go,” Conley said. “The goal is to be playing our best ball in February.”

No one expects Smith to score 27 a night, but Smith does expect to play his role throughout the season. That is what he has learned in his years with the program.

“We want to go as far as possible,” Smith said. “We had an extremely hard work ethic during the offseason and it carried over into the season. We know what we want, and it helps us play better together.”

Clark County boys basketball returning 1st- and 2nd-Team All-Leaguers:

4A GSHL:

1st Team: Zach Reznick (Union); Tyler Combs (Union); Cole Grossman (Skyview)

2nd Team: Alex Schumacher (Skyview); Samaad Hector (Skyview); Isaiah Sampson (Camas).

3A GSHL:

1st Team: Kam Osborn (Prairie); Jameel Morton (Fort Vancouver)

2nd Team: Braiden Broadbent (Prairie); Johnny Green (Fort Vancouver)

2A GSHL:

1st Team: Jacob Hjort (Columbia River)

Trico League:

1st Team: Isaiah Parker (Seton Catholic); Hunter Ecklund (La Center)

2nd Team: Avery Seter (La Center)

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About The Author

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Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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