The Braves win Sisters tourney, remain undefeated and No. 1-ranked in the OSAA 4A rankings.

COURTESY PHOTO: STEWART MONROE PHOTOGRAPHY - Banks senior forward Trevor Geraci dribbles around a defender during a game against Estacada earlier this season.

No. 1-ranked.

And still getting better — or at least trying.

The Banks Braves boys basketball team just won their eighth, ninth and tenth games of the season at last weekend's Sisters Tournament held at Sisters High School. They beat No. 11-ranked Mazama by 22, No. 6 Henley by 17 and cruised by California's Del Norte High School in the tourney finale 62-38.

But according to head coach Marcus Roche, it's not the winning he's most proud of, but rather how they're doing it that has him excited for what's ahead.

"I'm really pleased," said Roche. "When these guys come to practice, they're ready to work. The majority of our team are blue-collar guys who have gotten where they are based on hard work. They don't take days or even drills off, and if they do, we have friendly reminders to get them back on track."

So what's new? After all, this is a team that finished fourth in last year's state tournament, returns its two best players in wing Dalton Renne and post Blake Gobel, and has a number of returning role players with game experience from seasons prior. But while the Braves are talented, experienced and hungry after tasting success during last year's postseason, Roche believes this year's team has another weapon. Banks has the type of flexibility that can really cause opposing teams problems, the coach said — and he's definitely trying to make the most it.

"We've taken care of business against the teams we should beat, and against the better teams, we've been up for it," said Roche. "Due to that success, it's allowed us to nitpick and work more on specific things in practice in an effort to make us more dynamic."

The coach has been putting more of an emphasis on defense this season, not because the Braves have neglected it in the past, but more due to the depth of athleticism this team brings to the table.

Roche raves about his bench, singling out players like Dakota Bunn, Hayden Vandehey, Jacob Slifka and others, along with first-year starters Bret Cameron and Zach Streblow, whose strength and athleticism — coupled with desire — has allowed the Braves to pressure the ball in both the back and front courts, creating turnovers and wreaking havoc on teams' offensive sets.

"Our bench has been incredible," Roche said. "We've almost been better defensively off the bench than we are with the starters."

Roche said it's been fun to see the level of intensity with which his team has operated.

"They're taking teams out of what they want to do, and at times, it's absolutely changed games," he said.

The team had a stretch early last month where they went a week without a game. In that time, Roche and his coaching staff were able to focus strictly on themselves and their own improvement, rather than use valuable time game-planning for an opponent. He said the Braves were really able to fine-tune some things and continue to build the synergy necessary to compete at a high level.

"We're trying to get better, and I feel like we are," said Roche.

Due to their success they've seen little adversity to this point. But Roche said the Henley game — despite the 17-point win — was close into the fourth quarter before the Braves imposed their will late.

"It was a six-point game in the fourth and had a bit of playoff type feel," Roche said. "It was intense and Henley got in our face, but our guys didn't back down. We love that stuff and we welcome it."

Despite a desire for more of that prior to the league opener at Tillamook Jan. 16, Banks' schedule offers little in the way of competition prior to their Jan. 12 game at Newport. Roche hasn't seen much of the Cubs, but he knows they dominated the Cheesemakers and beat an always-tough Seaside team as part of a recent five-game win streak.

"They're not real big, but they're scrappy and run a tough, switching man-to-man defense," said the coach. "They beat Seaside at their place, so they're definitely on our radar and will offer the type of test we're looking for prior to league play."

And what about being No. 1-ranked?

"We try not to talk about rankings and we pound into the team the need to always get better," Roche said. "We talk about the things we're doing well, but we talk more about what we need to do to get better."

And what does that mean?

"We've never had a league title here," he said. "We'd like to change that."

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