Boys basketball looks deep with would-be starters

Sean C. Morgan

Despite losing a long list of talented seniors and experience, the boys basketball team is probably the deepest it’s been in recent years.

The Huskies will have 13 players in a varsity uniform this year, said Coach Kostanty Knurowski. But only one of them has significant experience after the departures of Drew Emmert, Ryan Graville, Brock Cota, Levi Marchbanks, Jerome Coleman, Brent Moyer, Willie Jones and Jon Webb to graduation.

“We don’t have a whole lot of experience coming back,” Knurowski said. “We’ve got Gavin Kauffman, and that’s the extent of our experience.”

Kauffman, though, brings considerable experience as he begins his third year on varsity and as a starter. He has been first-team all-league twice. He was the Val-Co Player of the Year and named first-team all-state last year.

Knurowski said that the Huskies make up for lack of experience with numbers.

“We seem to be deeper than we have been in the past. We can go two deep at virtually every position on the floor.”

Last year, the Huskies could play seven to eight guys, he said. This year, he expects to play nine or 10 athletes in many games.

Returning seniors include Kauffman and three who swung varsity – Robert Rubidoux, Chris Webb and Taylor Mauch. New varsity seniors include Paul Kim, Jason Rice, Nick Lloyd and Cody Felkins.

The team also returns juniors Kyle Winslow and Dallas Morgan, who were both swing players. New juniors include Jeremy White and Brice Vandenberg.

Sophomore Justin Rice will swing this year. He played a little varsity last year as well.

Competition for positions is high, Knurowski said, and they are not yet set. In fact, the team’s depth provides flexibility and options depending on what the team needs on game night.

Morgan will probably take point, Knurowski said, but he is facing competition from Justin Rice and Kim, who has been sick.

Rubidoux, White and Jason Rice are in a three-way battle for the shooting guard spots, Knurowski said, and when Vandeberg is healthy, he’ll probably be in that mix as well.

Everyone has different strengths, and playing time could shift all season, Knurowski said. “They’re all competitors, kind of stubborn in a good way. No one wants to give an inch.”

Kauffman will probably play the small forward position all season.

“At the other forward, we’ve got good competition going on between Mauch and Webb,” Knurowski said. Both have varsity experience, and they’re polar opposites. Webb is a strong perimeter shooter, while Mauch is active around the bucket, complementing each other well.

At the center spot, Felkins is good around the basket, while Winslow brings agility to the big man’s position, Knurowski said. Winslow moves fast for the position and is an active rebounder.

“I like the different options this team presents for us,” Knurowski said. The team has worked hard through the summer and fall to be ready for games this week, and the Huskies have the talent they need to be successful as they have been in the past three years.

Last year, the Huskies, Val-Co league champions, lost to Phoenix at home in round of 16 teams, the last round before going to the final eight at Gill Coliseum, Knurowski said. It was their third straight year reaching that point. They lost at LaGrande two years ago and Hidden Valley three years ago.

The team hasn’t talked about goals yet, but he knows the Huskies will want to go at least as far as it did last year, Knurowski said.

Sweet Home’s move to the Sky-Em this year also presents new challenges.

The consensus for the top two in the league is Sisters and Cottage Grove, Knurowski said. “Both of them should be pretty good. Hopefully, we’re kind of right around them with a chance to win league like we did last year.”

Elmira has been successful and is well-coached, but the team lost a lot of varsity experience this year, like the Huskies did, Knurowski said.

Junction City’s coach is one of the best in the state, Knurowski said, and he expects a challenge there regardless of the talent level of the players.

La Pine has talent ready to go too, he said, and after the long bus rides, games could be tough.

“All of the teams are going to be quite formidable,” Knurowski said, but his team has seen what it takes to be successful.

It’s had great role models in last year’s graduated seniors, including Drew Emmert, Ryan Graville, Brock Cota, Levi Marchbanks, Jerome Coleman, Brent Moyer, Willie Jones and Jon Webb, he said.

Knurowski plans to bring the same quick tempo to the floor, he said. The Huskies will put points on the board, but they want to stop their opponents too. So defense will remain a focus.

Knurowski wants to make sure his team is better conditioned than the opponent night after night, he said, so they can keep that fast tempo up.

“These guys are used to playing a fairly quick pace,” Knurowski said. The varsity level speed is even higher, so they will have a period of adjustment. “But I really do think we’ve got the people to fill the big spots.”

Coaching staff includes Randy Hutchins at the junior varsity level. He has been an assistant in the program for many years.

Robby Robinson is a veteran, experienced coach from Salem Academy, where he was head football coach, Knurowski said. He’ll coach the junior varsity two team. He coached for Knurowski at North Salem High School in basketball, and he has been head football coach at Redmond, Silverton and Woodburn. In football, Robinson has coached against Husky coaches Rob Younger, who retired from his coaching position last year, and Rod Rumrey, who coached the Huskies to a state championship.

“He brings a wealth of knowledge and wisdom,” Knurowski said of Robinson.

Coaching volunteers include former varsity players Jerome Coleman with the JV2 and Andy Worley at the JV.

At this point, “I think all three of our teams have some pretty good chances at success,” Knurowski said.