Forest Grove will take a global approach without standout scorer Bailey Evers

NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO - Forest Grove's Drake and Guy Littlefield celebrate during a Vikings game at Forest Grove High School last season.Following a successful 2016-17 season that saw Forest Grove advance to the state playoffs before losing to Southridge in the first round, the Vikings are cautiously optimistic in the wake of the departure of key contributors Zach Stanich, Dillon James and standout wing Bailey Evers.

So what's their identity?

"It remains to be seen," said Viking head coach Greg Evers. "It's still early, but I can tell you our focus will be different than it has been in the past."

Evers said his team is focusing more on defense this season and working hard on the mental aspect of the game in addition to building team chemistry in the hopes that a more "team" approach replaces the reliance of individuals they've had in the past.

Evers and junior point guard Kyle Thompson were responsible for the bulk of the Vikings' scoring last year, and with Evers gone, it will be up to returning guards Drake and Guy Littlefield — in addition to post Zach Richards — to step up in his absence.

"Drake will be that No. 2 for us and I'm looking for him to have a big year," Evers said. "The biggest challenge we have is getting that third and fourth guy that was so important to us last year when we got it from Zach Stanich and Dillon James."

Enter Richards.

The 6-foot-4 senior — with junior Ayden Purcell — will be called upon to clean up the boards, as well as provide the inside defensive presence necessary to protect the rim. Evers said that Richards, while rusty due to a summer off the court playing baseball, has been promising early on and looks the part of a post presence he's lacked during his time at Forest Grove.

"He looks like a 'Dude' right now. Big, strong and the most rim playing player I've ever had," said Evers. "Stanich was huge for us last year and we're hoping Richards will fill that role and become a double figure scorer and lead us in rebounding."

There's no question at the point, where Thompson returns from a junior campaign that garnered him second-team All-Greater Valley Conference honors. The senior — who in the past looked to lead and distribute more than shoot — will be asked to take a bit more active scoring role in the absence of Bailey Evers' nearly 20 points per game, but Evers is looking for more of the same from the player who was already one of the league's best.

NEWS-TIMES FILE PHOTO - Forest Grove's Kyle Thompson shoots a free throw during a Vikings game at Forest Grove High School last season."Kyle is looking really good and could be the best point guard in the league this year," said Evers. "We'll run more stuff for him like we did Bailey, but he truly knows how to run our team and I am extremely glad he's on our side."

The Vikings have a handful of new additions to this year's roster, including a returnee the coaching staff is happy to see return. Soccer standout Santana Sanchez is back from a two-year hiatus from the game, and Evers is looking to him as an energy guy who has the ability to defend at the highest level. In addition to Sanchez, the Viks add sophomore Cole Smith, junior Dominic Funk and seniors Noah Duve and Sam Riley, who all bring something different to the table.

Evers believes the GVC will be as deep as ever this season, with two teams — Sprague and West Salem — likely ranked in the preseason top 10. But also feels that if his team plays like they're capable they're worthy of being in the top four and finding their way into the postseason.

"If we can develop a true belief in each other and play together, we have some size, some speed and our shooting has looked much improved," Evers said. "If we can defend like I want us to defend, we can get into the top four."

Forest Grove opens its season Nov. 29 at Sherwood.

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