With seniors such as Troy Norris, Sean Slavin and Weston Walker, the Atascadero High boys basketball team knew it had a pretty experienced core coming into this season.
Throw junior Hayden Mislavsky into the mix, and four-fifths of the Greyhounds’ starting five saw plenty of floor time a year ago.
But the missing piece, the fifth component, just happened to be watching the others from the stands as an eighth-grader last year — as was another who has now become one of the squad’s best bench players.
Robert Berwick, a freshman small forward, had a team-best 15 points on Friday evening to lead Atascadero to a 65-55 PAC 7 win over Arroyo Grande at James Gym.
Fellow freshman Jared Stuedemann, a reserve in the same capacity, added nine points.
“We just try to come out and fit in with everyone, and just go out there and play our hearts out,” Berwick said.
Berwick and Stuedemann each hit two shots from 3-point range in a pivotal third quarter. They combined for 14 points during that stretch, as Atascadero (13-3, 3-0) steadily pulled away from a 27-27 halftime tie.
“We had them in a real challenging summer schedule,” Greyhounds coach Jerry Tamelier said, “and they performed really well. I think it’s taken them a little while to find a rhythm and play with the other players, but I think they both had big games for us.
“I think that’s a big difference in our win tonight, was that they came in and they hit shots and played smart with the ball.”
In August 2009, Berwick was rated by HoopScoopOnline.com as the best wing in the eighth-grade division at the AAU Junior Phenom Camp in San Diego. Gradually finding his way through the earlier portion of this season, Berwick came into Friday as the Greyhounds’ fourth-leading scorer at 8.2 points per game.
“Last year during (the playoffs), I was watching the game and I was just thinking, ‘Wow, I’m on this team next year,’ ” said Berwick, a former ballboy for the Greyhounds. “I’m just trying to work hard.”
Norris, Mislavsky and Walker each had 10 points Friday.
“I think we played smart,” Tamelier said. “I was really pleased with the way we ran our zone offense, our man offense, and especially with the way we defended down the stretch.”
For Arroyo Grande (11-7, 1-2), shooting guard Gunnar Gomez had a game-best 22 points, including six 3-pointers.
“He’s one of the best shooters that I’ve ever coached,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said. “What a lot of people don’t see is all the time he puts in in the offseason shooting the basketball, so it’s really enjoyable for me to see him have a lot of success.”
Ryan Echols was the next-leading scorer for the Eagles with nine points.
Both Atascadero and Arroyo Grande are looking for successful follow-ups to last year, when the two advanced to their respective divisional quarterfinals.
Atascadero has yet to play defending league champion Righetti but will travel there Jan. 14. The Eagles were two games removed from a 74-52 loss to Righetti, as Warriors guard Van Holloway had arguably the best single game the league has seen on the young season, erupting for 33 points.
“Our league is always pretty tough, and I think it even got a little bit tougher this year with St. Joseph coming in,” Glanville said. “It’s a difficult start, obviously, when you’re facing Righetti and Atascadero, both in the first week. They’re both very good basketball teams. But we also know Paso Robles and San Luis and St. Joe’s, they’re not going to be easy, either.”