Despite big loss to graduation, boys hoops returns experience – and coach

Sean C. Morgan

Coach Drew Emmert this season expects his team, the Sweet Home varsity boys basketball team, to build on the successes it had late last season as it won four of its last seven games and tied for fourth place in the Sky-Em League.

The Huskies struggled with turnovers and inaccurate shooting last year, leading to a nine-game losing streak, leaving them with a 3-7 league record and 6-17 overall, but they started to gel and bounce back by the end of the season.

“We ended the year strong,” said Emmert, who is in his second year coaching the team. “So we’re trying to carry it forward. Everything is so much smoother. The kids know my expectations.”

Instead of teaching them brand new things, he said, they’re already familiar with what they need to know.

The Huskies have lost a large senior contingent to graduation – Justin Tow, Ty Plebuch, Jake Bangot, Nick Rodgers, Jesus Patricio and Greg Staten, some of whom were big contributors last season.

But the team returns seniors Daniel Virtue and Keanu Aiona, top-scoring starters, Emmert said. Aiona “is super explosive, quick at getting to the hoop and shoots well.”

Virtue gets to the hoop too, Emmert said.

The Huskies return another strong shooter in Justin Carpenter, who started some games last year, Emmert said. Carpenter shot a lot of threes, especially toward the end of the year and is expected to be one of the team’s best shooters.

Returning with the three guards is junior Keegan Holly, who played a little varsity last year, and senior guard Tristan Graham, who wore a varsity jersey last year but mainly played junior varsity.

Graham is a senior and all varsity this year, Emmert said, and he’s a good shooter.

Senior guard Alonso Perez returns after a year off from basketball, Emmert said. Perez was a key to Sweet Home’s boys clinching their first soccer playoff berth in history a month ago.

“He’s just a good athlete. He’s quick.”

Four sophomores join the varsity, including Jake Swanson and Hayden Nichol, Emmert said. Both will play post. They’re not tall, but they’re fast and “super physical.”

Guards Nate Virtue and Colton Smith are both skilled for sophomores and will get minutes backing up the senior guards, he said. “They both are really good defenders and work their tails off.”

Returning to the coaching staff are Brandon Gaskey to assist Emmert and Ryan Graville, who will coach JV. Trevor Parker joins the staff to coach the JV2.

Parker, a Brownsville resident, attended high school at Central Linn High School and was 2A player of the year his senior year. He played at Northwest Christian College.

Former Huskies players Gavin Kauffman and Cody Daniels also will help out this season.

Emmert is optimistic about the upcoming season.

Sweet Home isn’t tall, but it’s very physical, he said. “We should shoot the ball, and we should be a fast team.”

They’ll be fast, he said, but he expects the Huskies to have more control and limit their turnovers this year.

“They should have a good defense going this year,” he said. “Our defense is much better.”

His players are better at making stops, he said, which should lead to a better transition game. The team is disciplined too and can drop into its set offense well when it’s not pushing the ball in transition.

“We want to transition, but we want to be able to run our stuff,” Emmert said. He expects the Huskies to mostly run a disciplined motion offense.

Sweet Home struggled in man-to-man defense last year, Emmert said, but this year, they’ll spend more time in it to bring a much tougher defense to the court.

“I’ve had them last year, and almost all these guys have played this summer,” Emmert said. “They really understand what we’re looking for as coaches and what we expect.”

Last year’s seniors had a difference coach each year of high school, Emmert said. Now, with a returning coach, the team is weeks ahead of where it was a year ago.

Around the league, almost everybody is going to be a threat, he said.

Cottage Grove is going to be picked to win, Emmert said. The Lions made it to the state quarterfinals last year and will be among the best in the state this year. Their football team lost 35-21 Saturday, Nov. 26, to North Bend in the 4A state final.

Sisters returns one really good player and will be tough, he said. Junction City lost a lot of players but should be solid.

Elmira lost a lot of players too, Emmert said, but the Falcons are usually well coached and tough.

Sutherlin could be down a little this year.

The Huskies want to make a state play-in game at least this year, Emmert said. That will probably require a 6-4 record in league. To get to the play-in round, they’ll need to play a solid preseason as well to improve their statewide rankings.

The Junior Varsity includes Johnny Lynn, Parker Lemmer, Michael Guidry, Zac Zanona, Deshane Salas, Lance Hanson, Casey Tow and Austin Sills.

The JV2 includes Seth Graham, Skyler Sills, Carson Smith, Zach Luttmer, Tye Moore, Iakona Howerton, Colby Seibers, Davin Guzman, Austin Miller, Peyton Ullrich, Kai Bryson and Austin Parrish.