They believe that they have enough raw talent to make a run at returning to Knight Arena

by: JOHN DENNY - Milwaukie coach Scott Bays discusses strategies with team co-captains Tyler Spencer (left) and Matthew Chilberg. The Mustangs have high aspirations despite losing all but one player from last years varsity that advanced to the final eight at Knight Arena.With only one returnee from last year’s team and a new head coach, Milwaukie High School’s boys basketball team is a work in progress.

But anyone who counts the Mustangs out may do so at their own peril.

Although they have a youthful lineup, with players inexperienced at playing at the varsity level, the Mustang do have talent. And they are playing one of the tougher preseason schedules in Oregon Class 5A boys basketball, as they gear up for their Jan. 14 Northwest Oregon Conference opener with Wilsonville, playing teams from Class 6A big schools Westview, Jesuit, Tualatin, Forest Grove, Canby and Sunset.

The Mustangs were impressive in their season opener with Metro League power Westview, giving the Wildcats all they could handle in a 53-47 loss. They met their match in 2013 Class 6A semifinalist Jesuit on Jan. 10, an 84-56 loss. And they were to meet Tualatin on the road on Dec. 17. Westview and Tualatin both made the Class 6A sweet 16 last season.

“We’ve got the toughest schedule in 5A,” said Milwaukie first-year head coach Scott Bays. “We’ve been thrown into the Lions’ den. We meet three top tier teams in our first three games. The kids know we’ve got a tough schedule, but they are not using it as an excuse. They’re playing hard, going all out and giving it 100 percent. They know this schedule will do a lot to prepare us for league....

“I’m not sure how we’ll do in league, but I know these kids will battle. The biggest thing is getting used to the physicality and faster pace of varsity level play.”

Returning starter Tyler Spencer is the only returning player from last year’s varsity and Spencer has taken on a leadership role. Hitting inside and out, the 6-5 senior wing/post tallied a game-high 21 points in Milwaukie’s season opener with Westview, despite facing double teams.

Other starters against the Wildcats included: juniors Matthew Chilberg (5-10 point guard) and Jarrid Walker (5-8 wing), and sophomores Grant Loudon (6-4 post/wing) and Vasiliy Voznyuk (6-1 wing).

Bays says that Chilberg has good skills, despite no experience playing high school basketball. This month’s season opener with Westview was his first varsity game. He transferred to Milwaukie from Clackamas last year, but did not play, and he missed his freshman year at Clackamas because of an injury.

Walker moves up from a Milwaukie jayvee team that finished with a .500 record last season. Loudon and Voznyuk played on a highly successful Milwaukie freshmen team last year.

“We’ve got three freshmen from that [freshmen] team on varsity and we would have four, except another freshman [6-0 sophomore wing Isaiah Gentry] broke his leg in three places in football,” said Bays. “We hope to have [Gentry] with us for the start of league, but we’ll see what the doctors say. He’s got his boot off and he’s in rehab now.”

Others seeing a considerable amount of playing time for the Mustangs in their first game were: senior Miliak Rood (5-11 guard), junior Logan Andersen (6-3 post/forward) and sophomore Wesley Johnson (6-1 wing).

Rounding out the Mustang varsity roster are: senior Stephen Persad (6-0 wing) and juniors Kekoa Carreira (5-9 wing), Griffin Johnson (6-0 post) and Kyle Vermillion (6-4 wing/post).

“It’s definitely going to be a building year,” said Spencer. “But I feel like our season should be pretty good. We have guys that play hard and listen....

“My goal for the team is to get back to Knight Arena. I think we can do it if we play fast and smart, and play tough “D.”

“I think people are underrating us,” said Chilberg, who is team captain along with Spencer. “I think we’ll do better than people think. We work hard in practice and we all get along.”

The Mustangs play Forest Grove on the road this Friday and they vie in a tournament in Bend Dec. 27-29.

They play Canby on the road on Jan. 7, before returning home on Friday, Jan. 10, as hosts to Sunset. The Mustangs host Wilsonville in their Jan. 14 NWOC opener.

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