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The 'versatile' Braves improve to 8-0 overall after an easy home win over Astoria.

COURTESY PHOTO: STEWART MONROE - Banks head coach Marc Roche speaks to his team during a timeout in game with Estacada earlier this season, at Banks High School.The Banks boys basketball team remains undefeated.

The Braves (8-0) defeated Astoria 66-38 Monday night, June 7, and in the process continued down the road to what they hope will be a Cowapa League championship and a spot in the 4A classification's culminating week tournament, which is set to be played in the Marshfield/North Bend area.

Head coach Marc Roche said he's been pleased with the team's play to this point. He added that despite the obvious difficulties surrounding the year and abbreviated season, his team has performed relatively well due to the experience much of his team gained over the previous season or two.

"We're fortunate to have seven returning guys that played significant varsity minutes for us last year," Roche said. "It's a mature group that was familiar with our expectations, and I think we're getting better and better every week. I've been really pleased."

The coach said that opposed to in years past, this season's Braves team doesn't have great size. But while no longer "big" for the 4A classification, this year's team is more versatile and in many ways more lethal due to that flexibility.

"In some ways, we're a better rebounding team," Roche said, surprisingly. "Also, defensively we're able to do different things because we have people who can guard both inside and on the perimeter."

One of those guys, senior Tyler Exline, is listed at 6-foot-3, but is often tasked to guard the opposing team's post. Roche said Exline is one of the team's leaders, but he also brings the type of flexibility that makes the Braves dangerous.

COURTESY PHOTO: STEWART MONROE - Banks' Joseph Buliga takes a jump shot during the Braves' game against Astoria Monday night, June 7, at Banks High School."He's an excellent undersized forward," the coach said. "He can get tough inside with the 'bigs,' but also has the ability to knock down shots."

Another player the coach talked about was point guard Joseph Buliga. The senior is seeing his third year of varsity action, and Roche said he's been impressed with the strides the guard has made since last season.

"He's having an unbelievable year and has really stepped up," Roche said. "He's always been disruptive defensively, but this year, he's done a great job of reading the play and slowing things down offensively."

Roche also spoke glowingly about junior guard Cooper Gobel, whom he said thrives getting the ball into the paint and scoring in the lane, along with senior Jack Walker, whom he touted for his intensity and ability to do the little things that hold the team together.

"Jack's definitely a 'glue guy' for us," Roche said. "He does everything we need of him. He can score, I think he leads our team in assists and can get rebounds and play defense. He's so versatile, and he's like having a coach on the floor out there."

If it sounds like Roche is big on versatility, he is. That's how he best describes his team, and he says the stat sheet backs him up. He said that the team as a whole isn't all that interested in individual stats, and if anything, they individually get more pumped up for teammates when one of them gets going.

"I think uniquely that we have a group of just pretty unselfish guys," he said. "In a way, it reminds me of our championship team from a couple years ago. There's not a ton of ego on this team, and because of that, we're not very predictable, and that makes us difficult to guard."

And is there anything that surprises the coach? Really, it's just how the Braves players have responded to the difficult nature of the season. Between the lack of practice time, players coming to the team late due to overlapping sports seasons, and all of the uncertainty surrounding school and the season to begin with, distraction to some extent was expected. But not this group. They're just focused and having fun.

"We're having a blast right now, and I'm loving every minute of it," Roche said. "I think our guys truly bought in and aren't taking any day for granted. We wanted to play, and I'm just thankful for this opportunity."

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