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The Cougars defeat Silverton and hang with Fort Vancouver during tournament at Canby High School

HERALD PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Point guard Wade Brewer is the Cougars most experienced returning player.

A few days before many of Canby's top players from the 2016-17 boys basketball season will graduate, the 2017-18 team began its journey toward next season.

And in the summer kick-off tournament at Canby High School last weekend, the senior-heavy but largely inexperienced unit showed some rust and reticence but also some ability.

The Cougars defeated Silverton 55-53 and lost to Fort Vancouver 64-59, Centennial 48-44 and Newberg 55-36 in the tournament Saturday and Sunday June 3-4.

Canby's games against Silverton and Fort Vancouver took place in the first day of the tournament and head coach Craig Evans was proud of his team's performance in these games. To earn the Silverton win, junior guard Rizdin Miller buried a 3-pointer with five seconds left to give Canby the lead. Miller was the leading scorer on the junior varsity team last season and Evans describes him as a knock down shooter who could compete for minutes next season. The Cougars also hung tough with a Fort Vancouver team that won its first three games in pool play.

"Vancouver and Silverton were both really athletic, really good teams. I thought we competed really well with both of them and we ended up winning the Silverton game because we competed so hard, "Evans said.

Canby didn't play as well the second day and fell behind early to Centennial before falling by four points. Then, they struggled to score against Three Rivers League rival Newberg.

"We came out a little flat the first game and dug ourselves in a hole. The second game it was sort of the same thing. We just couldn't get our shots going. We started out 0-for-4 on wide-open shots from the 3-point-line. You have to hit those," Evans said.

Still, the Cougars relied heavily on the three-ball in the first half against Newberg and Evans says the team will likely score the vast majority of their points via 3-pointers and lay-ups next season.

Considering how much talent the Cougars lost from last season, the oscillation between success and failure is to be expected.

All-league wing Dylan Taylor and rotation players Peter Wilmes, Justin Morris, Ethan Dawson-Hurley, Austin Kirkwood and Nate McDonald played their final high school games last winter.

However, Honorable Mention All-League point guard Wade Brewer and backup guard Ronan Gay return. Evans will use both as ball-handlers and says Brewer will be asked to carry a larger burden of the scoring load.

"This year the spotlight is on him and it's going to be up to the other guys to fulfill their roles and help him out," Evans said of Brewer.

About Gay, Evans said: "It's nice with him having a year under him that we can put him at the point (guard) a little more and let Wade come off of screens. He can be the facilitator."

Also, Jacob Huggins, who received sporadic playing time last season, returns as an athletic, all-purpose contributor while seniors Riley Jones, Antonio Arredondo, Luke Scott and Aaron Kromer will also vie for playing time.

"We'll be an older team just not with a lot of experience," Evans said.

Throughout the summer, the Cougars will sharpen key fundamentals such as crisp passing, forceful screens and defensive rotations and will play about 30 games in 40 days.

"We're just going to try to play fundamental basketball. We'll press. We'll zone. We'll man. We'll do a lot of different things to see what they're comfortable with and what they buy into," Evans said.

Though the Cougars fell behind by a large margin against Newberg, they may have played their best basketball in the final minutes. With the outcome no longer in doubt, they continued to scrap, fight and claw until the final whistle.

"This team is athletic. They're feisty. There's not a lot of egos. They're good friends with each other. There's no tension between any of them. It's gonna be a fun team to coach because they're going to do what you ask and they're gonna fight every single game. They were fighting out there down 20. They're still trying to get better," he said.

HERALD PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Canby guard Ronan Gay will play a larger role next season after coming off the bench last season. HERALD PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Canby's Jacob Huggins defends a Newberg player during the tournament on Sunday, June 4.

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