It’s hard to fathom now, but the trumping Taylor Harris-Tyler Gutierrez coalition that cudgeled Metro for two years and took Sunset back to the league’s pinnacle wasn’t always so supreme.

Harris’ filthy crossovers, confident three-point shooting ability and ambidextrous finishes against contact in the paint weren’t always engrained in the Apollo guard’s membrane. Gutierrez’s patience in the post, his relishing of physicality and automatic scoring aptitude on the block were not established as an elementary school tyro tormenting Beaverton’s THRPD leagues.

As seventh graders playing for the same Sunset youth team, Harris was a skinny, standstill guard who was hesitant to drive — or shoot — and Gutierrez was the extremely tall, but decidedly green big guy who literally stood head and shoulders above his peers. They were two spindly teenagers with the makings of becoming solid ballplayers, trying to make a mark on an Apollo program that only knew success.

“When we first started playing together I was only a shooter, but I only shot like three times a game,” said Harris with a laugh. “And, it was one of the first times Tyler played so he was pretty raw. But, I think we both had potential, it was a just a matter of getting better.”

After those early gawky years of trying to find their games, Harris and Gutierrez quickly developed into a pair of budding stars with the potential to someday be Sunset’s leading men on the varsity level. Together they played junior varsity ball as freshmen, matured from rotation players as sophomores playing under head coach Todd Sherwood to starring seniors experienced and skilled enough to shoulder the load.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Former Sunset guard Taylor Harris was a first-team all-Metro selection as a senior, and will continue his continue his career at Concordia with Tyler Gutierrez.

In collaboration, Harris and Gutierrez formed a pick-your-poison quandary that gave Sunset a toxic balance of outside scoring prowess and inside dominance that no Metro team could stem. Instead of competing with one another, they complemented each other. They were two alpha dogs each equipped with scoring mentalities, but focused on doing what was best for the team.

It’s a combination that helped Sunset win 21 games this season, sweep Southridge, beat Jesuit in a winner-takes-all Metro showdown, and bolster the Apollos to their first Metro championship since 2008. Competing with the same core of seniors such as Jeff Bieber and Mikey Fey who suited up with Harris and Gutierrez as seventh graders, Sunset finished fourth in state for the second straight season, winning two games in the consolation bracket at the 6A state tourney.

“We wanted to win a state championship, but I’m still so proud of all the things we accomplished,” said Gutierrez. “We won Metro, beat a lot of teams. And, not only were we pretty good, but it was a lot of fun playing with all those guys and just an exciting team to be on.”

“We accomplished a lot of things that haven’t happened in a while,” added Harris. “The fact that we won Metro and won all those games with the same kids we’ve played with since seventh grade made it that much more sweet.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Tyler Gutierrez will most likely start his Concordia career in the post, but hopes to venture out to the perimeter where his outside shot and versatility could shine.

And, when Concordia University recruited the twosome separately with means of bringing both into the fold and possibly replicating Harris and Gutierrez’s chemistry on the collegiate level, each Apollo captain was interested and intrigued.

Gutierrez was the first to commit to Concordia because of the coaching staff and the budding program that’s going up to Division II in two years. When the Metro Player of the Year heard Harris also signed with the Cavs in early April, Gutierrez said he “couldn’t have been happier”.

“We’ve been playing together forever and (Harris) is one of my best friends and a great teammate,” said Gutierrez. “Taylor’s a player where he only adds to the team, He is a scorer, but he’s not Carmelo Anthony where he always has to have the ball. He’s an awesome teammate and an awesome player.”

“Tyler going (to Concordia) was definitely something I wanted to take advantage of,” said Harris. “He’s a guy I know our team could count on and come through in the those big moments and big games. I’m excited to see us continue to play together and grow.”

There’s a flowing pipeline of sorts funneling from a Sunset to Concordia that began with current Cavs and former Apollo stars Anthony Holton and Daniel Duistman. Head coach Brad Barbarick and assistant Jeff Christianson have made it a point of emphasis to recruit the Portland Metro area with vigor and bring the best ballplayers from the city and suburbs into Concordia. Christianson’s long-longstanding relationship with Gutierrez and Harris dates back to the duo’s elementary days, and continued when Christianson was an assistant at Sunset from 2006-11.

“One of the reasons we decided to go there was the amount of attention they gave us,” said Harris. “We figured they’d focus on us and help us become the best players we can be.”

At 6-foot-8 Gutierrez will most likely begin his Concordia career in the post, specifically the power forward spot where he can use his deft footwork and tough turnaround jumpers on the block. Gutierrez thinks he can also slide over to small forward, which certainly isn’t far-fetched considering the two-time all-Metro pick can step out and knock down threes or handle the ball comfortably on the break.

Harris said he never played much point guard until this season when he and Mikey Fey split time on and off the ball. The 6-foot-4 floor general envisions himself more as a shooting guard who can bring the ball upcourt if need be for Concordia.

“I see Taylor as well as myself exploding,” said Gutierrez. “We both have the type of the game where we’re going to thrive. I’m excited for it. I think we’re in the right program. I think they’re going to take care of us and see us out to our full potential. “I definitely need to bulk up a bit even to play the four. I have a lot of work to do to fit into a role like that, but I’ll play whatever position gets me on the floor.”

Both Harris and Gutierrez starred for the North squad at the OACA all-star series at Sprague High School, showing off their versatile abilities in a surprisingly competitive setting. Harris hit a handful of triples from deep, and Gutierrez was a force, swatting shots, running the floor hard and throwing down thunderous dunks that dislodged the hoop its foundation.

“We played with a great team in the regular season too, but it’s just a lot of fun to play with that many good players,” said Gutierrez. “Normally those guys are your rivals, but they’re good guys.”

“It’s good to end your high school career with a good, competitive game like that. It’s always fun,” said Harris.

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