Southridge, Beaverton, Jesuit head Metro title chase
In its relatively short, but successful existence, the Southridge boys basketball program has made the state tournament multiple times, put together 20-win seasons and sent players to the next level as collegians.
The Skyhawks have never won a Metro League championship nor been to the 6A state championship game before. Chalk that up to the greatness of Metro the past decade-and-a-half and the regularly underrated excellence of the state as a whole.
But this year, with arguably the most talented roster in the conference and one of the best teams Phil Vesel has ever had under his watch as head coach, could be when it all comes together for Southridge.
The Skyhawks certainly pass the eye test. They have deadly shooter/scorers in Bo Quinlan and Brock Henry and guards like Zach Galvin and Ben Pak who can run the show and set the tone defensively. Southridge sports two athletic, football-minded tough posts in Bradley Bickler and Kade Hustler, who know their roles and play them superbly. Plus, there's the great intrigue of the 6-foot-8 Filip Fullerton who just signed with Portland State University and appears bigger, stronger, more assertive and confident on both ends of the floor.
Southridge can put a check next to each of the state title contender necessities. The makings of the first Metro banner in The Cage and a deep run at the Chiles Center — the site of the state tourney in early March — seems well within the realm of reason.
"I think this may be Southridge's year," Aloha head coach David Saultz. "They have size, shooting, experience and loads of athleticism. Jesuit will be right there as always. I think those are the top two teams."
"Southridge has to be the favorite," Beaverton head coach Andrew Vancil said. "I think Jesuit and Beaverton are mysteries but could compete for a league title. Westview could be really good as well but with a new coach (Mike Wolf) I have no idea what they will look like."
"Southridge has so much talent and experience," Sunset head coach Todd Sherwood said.
But nothing comes easy, especially in Metro. Beaverton has won the past two Metro crowns and, while the Beavers lost six of their seven rotation players, senior Jake Estep is a star capable of putting 30 points on anybody and taking a game over on his own.
Jesuit brings back Matt Lang, one of the best outside marksman in the state, and two 6-foot-6 posts in Joe Wall and Sam Handley who can stretch the floor and shoot the ball from distance. Jesuit head coach Gene Potter could grab five recreation players from THRPD and make them competitive.
"Never count out a Gene Potter-coached team," Sherwood said.
"Beaverton, Jesuit and us should compete for the league title," Vesel said. "Jesuit has tradition and is always well coached. Beaverton is coming off two straight league titles. They have good momentum and Jake Estep is back."
Westview is rebuilding with Wolf but has a huge talent pool to chose from. Todd Sherwood gives his Apollo team an advantage with his diligent preparation and in-game adjustments. Aloha is never an easy out.
"We are really curious as to how we will fare in our league," Sherwood said. "The league has three really strong teams in Southridge, Beaverton and Jesuit. There are such great coaches in our league that so many teams could get into the playoffs based on the power rankings."
Perhaps Potter put it best when asked for his prediction on the league champion.
"The team (that wins Metro) is the one that is mentally tough enough to deal with grind of the Metro League," Potter said.
Following are previews for the Beaverton-area Metro League boys basketball teams for the 2017-18 season.
Saultz is in his first year as a head coach and brings in a completely new system to the Warriors, but said he's intrigued by Aloha's potential.
Senior Trey Hornbuckle is a 6-foot-3 post who has played varsity for all four years and has the most starting experience by far on the Warrior squad. He's a technician in the low post, a willing rebounder and a team leader who guides vocally and by example. Sophomore point guard Timmy Dennis started as a freshman and senior wing Matthew Powers is a prolific outside shooter who saw a lot of time in the rotation a season ago.
The Warriors don't have much size inside, so they'll rely on Hornbuckle to handle the boards and try to get their guards involved on the glass.
"We will be relying on leadership from Trey inside, Timmy at guard and Matt on the wing," Saultz said. "They have all been through the Metro League grind and will be counted on not only to score, defend and rebound but to provide strong examples for the rest of our team and entire program, showing them what it means to be a Warrior. I'm really excited about the leadership potential and attitude, not only in those three but the entire team."
Junior Cobi Wilson is a 6-foot-3 junior wing who's "a good two-way player and good athlete," according to Saultz. Senior guard Justin Vanaken, sophomore guard Caleb Turner and senior wing Albert Aguilar are also fixtures on Saultz's roster.
How many teams can lose seven seniors and still be considered one of the top-two, at worst three teams in Metro prior to league play?
Estep is Beaverton's only player with starting experience or game seasoning period. But the Beaver program, under Vancil and his trusted crew of young assistants, has been back in a big way the past three seasons and continues to hum. They've built a culture that breeds excellence. Don't expect much of a fallback from the Metro champs.
"We are athletic and scrappy but lack size," Vancil said. "We will be an unselfish group that will rely on our defense and aggressive style. I am excited to lead this group and if they buy in to playing defense every day and every possession we will put ourselves in a position to beat anybody."
Estep is a star, a strong 6-foot-5 wing with a picturesque outside shot, solid off-the-dribble game, toughness and ability to rise to the magnitude of the moment. The senior signed with Division Two power Western Oregon this fall and will be Beaverton's featured player offensively.
"Estep will be my best player and will be in the running for Player of The Year," Vancil said.
Junior guard Mason Stewart Carothers, junior wing Mike Gooding, and senior Eli Serrao are in the mix to start for Beaverton as non-league actions begins. With four of five starting positions available, Vancil wants to see that trio become reliable contributors and starting-caliber players.
"All three of those kids need to step up and have big years for us," Vancil said.
Junior Mike Gooding, senior Moses Okullu, and sophomore John Oleson also will see time for the Beavers.
Gloss over the Crusaders at your own peril.
Potter doesn't like to heap praise on his teams too often, especially if he feels it's unwarranted. But make no mistake, the veteran head coach is working at finding ways to maximize his team's potential. What that looks like remains to be seen. Last year Jesuit played at one of the fastest paces in all of 6A, racing up and down the floor, shooting tons of threes, putting the onus on its opponent to keep up. The Crusaders came close to toppling eventual state champion Jefferson in the second round of the 6A playoffs because of their breakneck style.
Whether Jesuit continues that torrid clip depends on who takes over as the starting point guard. Lang, Handley and Wall are great shooters who can orbit around the perimeter, spread the floor and kill teams from long range. They've each rounded out the rest of their games, too, in order to avoid being one-dimensional.
Lang had a strong summer on the AAU circuit playing for Portland Basketball Club alongside future D1 players in Kamaka Hepa, Marcus Tsohonis and Kelton Samore. The southpaw picked up an offer from D2 contender Northwest Nazarene University and is poised for a breakout senior campaign.
What we do know is Jesuit will defend at all costs, practice tenaciously and play its guts out every game. Players who don't sit on the bench next to Potter and get buried on the pine. Juniors Will Sheaffer, Justin Bieker, Will Spitznagel, Aiden Williams, sophomore Matt Levis, seniors Michael Gadda, Matt Eichten, Mack Barton, Tanner Kaczmarek and Alex Wan return from last year to along with Lang, Handley and Wall.
"We are expecting great leadership from our three returning seniors to help with our lack of experienced depth in competing in the always tough Metro League," Potter said. "We believe that we will be competitive on a nightly basis, improve throughout the season, and compete for one of the Metro League playoff spots."
The conference favorites have one of the more robust rotations in Metro and a coach in Vesel who knows how to get guys to buy in, even when they're not playing huge minutes.
Vesel listed nine players who will see the floor this season. For every position, there's at least one quality player behind him who can come in and not sacrifice progress or momentum. Fullerton, Galvin, Henry, Quinlan, Bickler, Hustler, Ben Pak, Connor Fajardo and Kyle Mabray can all play more than one spot as well. Southridge is deep, multi-dimensional and capable of beating teams with waves of scoring balance and defensive versatility.
"Our team has great depth at both the post and wing," Vesel said. "Bo Quinlan and Zach Galvin are capable scorers. Bradley Bickler and Kade Hustler will both impact the game for us."
Vesel pointed to Fullerton as a fulcrum for Southridge as the season unfolds. Coming off a huge summer on the AAU circuit, Fullerton bagged a double-double in Southridge's season opener against South Salem with Portland State University head coach Barrett Peery watching in the front row. Fullerton seems to just be scratching the surface when it comes to his personal potential.
"(Fullerton) is key for us," Vesel said. "He is a skilled big man who can shoot it, post up and play off the bounce."
Henry and Fullerton are Southridge's only two returning starters. Henry showed flashes of stardom as a sophomore with his potent catch-and-release ability and penchant for getting to the tin.
"(Henry) is a dynamic wing who can shoot the three and attack the rim," Vesel said. "I am looking for him to take a jump from his sophomore year."
Coach Todd Sherwood is optimistic Sunset can get back in the playoffs and for good reason.
The knowledgeable head coach has his point guard back in Tyler Sumner and a handful of like-sized guard ball handlers such Nick Cizik, Braeden Sato, Coleman Newsom and Austin Holst.
"Sumner is a really solid point guard who can create off of the dribble," Sherwood said. "He was not healthy last year, so this year he will be fun to watch in the league."
6-foot-6 forward Will Reese is one of six or seven players with the capacity to start for Sunset, along with the aforementioned guards. The Apollos missed the playoffs last season, but with Sumner returning at 100 percent and the rest of the Sunset's backcourt mates contributing consistently, Sherwood anticipates his squad will be in the postseason hunt down the stretch.
"I am hopeful that we will push for a playoff spot in league," Sherwood said. "We really like this team and how hard they play. It will be a fun journey."
Legendary head coach Pat Coons retired after last season and nine critically important seniors who helped take the Wildcats to the 6A state tournament graduated.
But Westview is one of the more interesting jobs in the state because of its school size and ability to pull from deep pool of players. Wolf was hired after a thorough coaching search last spring and is guiding a team with seniors such as Eric Anderson and Jack Poling who have played in big games and succeeded in the Metro League.
Poling made some huge plays in crunch time last year, making two huge late free throws against Jesuit last year to help Westview put the Crusaders away in the fourth quarter. He's a 6-foot-10 southpaw with improved strength, touch around the rim and sage passing ability in the post. At that size, Poling is possibly the biggest player in Metro and one of the more experienced.
Anderson is a water-bug-quick point guard with defensive chops and left-handed handle. As a junior, his main role was applying on-ball pressure and tried to take an opposing point guard out of the game with hounding defense. His quickness and speed are important traits that should help Westview get into its offensive sets and spearhead its defensive schemes.
Seniors Andrew Bear, Shasank Bonthala and Abhinav Janappareddi were on Westview's squad that finished second in Metro last year. 6-foot-7 senior Matthew White, seniors Joseph Ellsworth, Tanner Ordyna, Aaron Kramer, juniors Kobe Newton, Koby Hawley, Benjamin Keeney and sophomore Wayne Jamison will factor into Wolf's rotation.