West Linn boys to challenge again in 2017-18
There's no two ways about it — the West Linn boys basketball team was very, very good in 2016.
Despite incorporating a new head coach, four prominent transfers and eight new varsity players overall, the Lions went 14-0 to win the Three Rivers League, took the second seed into the playoffs, won twice there to reach the Class 6A state tournament, then took two of three there to finish third.
This year, with another great graduated senior class in the rearview mirror and seven newcomers on the varsity roster, the Lions believe they'll be just as dangerous in 2017-18.
"That's our very first goal, to win the league again," said second-year head coach Tyler Toney, whose 2016-17 team extended West Linn's TRL winning streak to 34 games. "We're really going to be able to score this year — we want the game to be in the 80s and 90s — but if we want to be able to get to where we want to, we'll need to be able to defend."
That said, West Linn — which enters the year as the four-time defending TRL champion — will look significantly different from a year ago thanks to the graduation of all-league starters Braden Olsen, Khalid Thomas (the TRL Defensive Player of the Year), Nolan Bertain and Rodney Hounshell.
On the plus side, the Lions bring back first-team all-league forward Keishon Dawkins (a 6-foot-7 senior), as well as five additional returners including 6-3 senior guard Jalen Thompson, 6-0 junior guard Drayton Caoile, 6-3 sophomore guard Micah Garrett, 6-5 sophomore wing Damiko Tidmore and 5-11 sophomore guard Andre Best.
"It all starts with Keishon and Jalen," Toney said. "Those are guys who started and they've been our leaders on and off the court."
Dawkins, also an all-league football player for West Linn, "is a big, strong kid who's been in the battle before, he can score the ball, he's a great rebounder and he gives us a presence on the court we need," Toney said. He added that Thompson "will be our best on-ball defender, he can really shoot it and he also improved his athleticism and his body over the summer."
Along with Dawkins and Thompson, Caoile and Garrett are both expected to play prominent roles this year, as is 6-3 sophomore guard Bryson Crockett, a transfer from Clackamas.
Caoile, after playing behind Olsen and Payton Pritchard the previous two seasons, "learned from some of the really good point guards and really learned what we want from that position," Toney said.
After that group, Tidmore and Best will be joined by 6-3 senior wing Logan Maly, 6-4 junior guard Connor Zralka (a transfer from Horizon Christian) and 5-11 senior guard Ahmir McGee (a transfer from Franklin), along with 6-5 senior wing Max Michelon, 6-3 junior wing Cade Knutson and 6-2 sophomore wing Parker Durbin.
"Micah, Damiko and Bryson are sophomores, but they're all big-time players," Toney said. "They're all getting a lot of interest from college coaches and they played at a very high level over the summer with their AAU teams."
While talented again, the Lions will look different this year, with their play more guard-focused and likely stronger defensively.
"The biggest difference is we don't have the size we did last year," Toney said. "This year, we've got a whole bunch of guards. We'll play faster and I think we'll be a better defensive team than we were last year."
In the coming TRL race, Toney said he expects Tigard and Lake Oswego to provide the strongest tests to the Lions' supremacy.
"They both have kids back that played meaningful minutes, they're both well-coached and have tough players," Toney added.
To read the Lake Oswego boys basketball team preview, click here.
To read the Lakeridge boys basketball team preview, click here.