4a Boys Basketball Preseason Top 10 – Guest Post by Derek Berning

With basketball just a few days away, easternoregonsports.com received the following pre-season picks from Derek Berning. Please let us know if you agree with Berning’s picks.

  1. Gladstone
    1. Key Returners: G Jude Ashpole (2-AS), P Jeremy De Voe (1-AC), W Brandon Wanlass (2-AC), W Thomas Tacha (HM-AC)
    2. Key Departures: W Ethan Bulisco (HM-AC)
    3. After a disappointing 5-4 start, Gladstone ended last season on a blistering 15-1 tear to make the ultimately-cancelled state tournament. They return much of what got them there, including their three best players in W Brandon Wanlass, Conference POY Jude Ashpole, and P Jeremy De Voe, who with his 14.9 PPG was a major snub from the all-state teams last year. Though W Ethan Bulisco is gone, the Gladiators will retain several key role players, like Thomas Tacha and Sebastain Pfeiffer, a lockdown defender on the wing. With the Ashpole-De Voe top-line and a deep roster behind them, Gladstone is my favorite for this shortened season.
  2. Marist Catholic
    1. Key Returners: P Ben Morehouse (HM-AS), P Alec Vendetti (1-AC), W Tresyn Herbert (HM-AC)
    2. Key Departures: G Nick Stice (POY-S), G JJ Anderson (2-AC)
    3. Last year, Marist won their final 13 games to earn the #1 seed in Forest Grove, and their 1st-round matchup against the similarly-hot Gladiators would have been a doozy. While they lose State POY Nick Stice, his departure will not be as devastating as it might appear since the Spartans were so well-rounded last year—Stice didn’t even lead the team in scoring! They retain elite players in posts Ben Morehouse and Alec Vendetti, and improvement from the rest of the roster (aided by reigning State COY Bart Pollard) should keep Marist in the title hunt in 2021.
  3. Woodburn
    1. Key Returners: W Jeovanny Marrequin (2-AS), G Jonathan Marroquin (2-AC), G Tomas Veliz (HM-AC)
    2. Key Departures: P Reese Miller (HM-AC)
    3. Woodburn, much like peak John Calipari Kentucky, does not rebuild; rather, they reload. Despite graduating all but 2 players from their 2019 semifinal squad, they managed to make a return to Forest Grove last year—the excellent depth of their program is evidenced by Coach Raul Veliz’s famously large rotations. This year, they will not be starting from scratch despite losing 7 seniors, with Jeovanny and Jonathan Marrequin returning as two of the state’s best defenders. The more offensively-oriented Tomas Veliz and Jose Lua (a 3-point marksman) are back, as well, and promotees from last year’s strong JV squad should fill any other holes in the rotation that may arise. Losing posts Reese Miller and David Cherimnov may make the team undersized, but they have too much talent to fall outside the top 3.
  4. Cascade
    1. Key Returners: G Carson Molan (2-AS)
    2. Key Departures: G Drake Davis (1-AC), W Elijah Nolan (HM-AC), P Carson Bischoff (HM-AC)
    3. Cascade had an argument as the single most-talented team in the state last year, with an elite top-line in guards Carson Molan and Drake Davis and a rotation so deep that 6’11 P Dominic Ball sometimes barely saw the court. If he becomes an elite rim protector with more minutes this year, the Cougars’ inconsistent defense will be greatly improved after faltering in bizarre late-season losses to Newport and Klamath Union last year (in which they allowed 76 and 69 points, respectively). Offense should be less of a concern for Cascade, as they are led by Molan, a dynamic playmaker who should contend for State POY. He will be supported by excellent wings in Justus Bischoff and Kellen Sande as well as P Matt-Alex Raney, all of whom are capable of averaging 10+ PPG this year and who should ensure that the team rarely lacks for scoring.
  5. Marshfield
    1. Key Returners: G Mason Ainsworth (1-AC), P Pierce Davidson (2-AC), W Dominic Montiel (HM-AC)
    2. Key Departures: W Landon Ginn-Forsberg (HM-AC)
    3. If any team could afford to see their season disrupted by COVID, it’s Marshfield. For as good as they figure to be this year, the Pirates will be even better next season, when their vaulted class of 2022 become seniors. This group is perhaps the best boys basketball class at any 4A school right now. They led their team to impressive wins over Crook County and Klamath Union last year as sophomores, and with just 3 upperclassmen on the roster made an appearance in the Round of 16, where they fell just short at Woodburn. Mason Ainsworth & Co. project as quarterfinalists this year, but they may well enter the already-approaching 2022 season as title favorites.
  6. Klamath Union
    1. Key Returners: P Jacob Cook (HM-AS), G Garrett Short (HM-AC), W Aaron Franklin (HM-AC)
    2. Key Departures: G Darius Holmes (1-AC), W Xavier Arvizu (HM-AC)
    3. KU ended last season on a high note, completing an improbable comeback against Cascade to advance to Forest Grove, and they return most of last year’s squad, from dark-horse State POY contender Jacob Cook to jumbo-sized point guard Garrett Short to interior force Jaxon Merhoff. They will be at least as good as they were last year, but I hesitate to deem them bona fide contenders due to the departure of Darius Holmes, a freak athlete who often provided the Pelicans with a spark when they needed it. Without him, their offense will be quite predictable: they will need to feed Cook as much as he can handle. With his immense offensive ability, that formula may end up being enough to propel them to a championship, but I wouldn’t bet on it unless one of Cook’s teammates emerges as an all-state sidekick.
  7. Philomath
    1. Key Returners: G Michael Lundy (2-AS), P Ty May (2-AC)
    2. Key Departures: G Toby Stueve (HM-AC), G Ben Reams (HM-AC)
    3. Last year, Philomath earned the #2 seed in the state tournament, lost just 3 games against 4A foes, and now return their 2 best players. So why are they ranked so low here? Two reasons: height and luck. Philomath’s suffocating defense was its foremost strength last year (they allowed just 40.6 PPG), built on top of their exceptionally tall roster, which often featured lineups with 4 players 6’3 or taller. However, the losses of 6’3 G Ben Reams, 6’5 W Dylan Edwards, and 6’3 P Dylan Bennett will reduce Philomath to a fairly average-sized squad, despite the imposing presence of 6’6 P Ty May. But more than that, Philomath was an extremely lucky team last year, going an absurd 10-0 in games decided by 7 points or fewer. Suffice it to say, that is unlikely to happen again. The Lundy-May combo will ensure that they remain strong, but a repeat of last year’s successes is improbable unless May plays at a State-POY level.
  8. Hidden Valley
    1. Key Returners: W Jeremiah Noga (1-AC), W Lawrence Matusik (2-AC)
    2. Key Departures: G Jonathan Byrd (HM-AC)
    3. Making the playoffs for the first time in over half a decade last year, Hidden Valley is a program on the rise. The loss of contributors like G Jonathan Byrd and stopper Jakob Tanner will hurt, but the Mustangs should improve simply by returning wings Jeremiah Noga and Lawrence Matusik, who figure to be 2 of the Skyline Conference’s 5 best players this year. If even a couple of other players on this upperclassman-heavy roster blossom into capable secondary pieces, Hidden Valley will easily be a top-10 team statewide, and may even manage to challenge Klamath Union (who they beat once last year) for the conference crown.
  9. Seaside
    1. Key Returners: none
    2. Key Departures*: G Ryan Hague (1-AS), G Stephen Snyder (AC), W Brayden Johnson (AC), W Beau Johnson (AC)
    3. Much like how I felt the need to give a special explanation for picking Philomath so low at #7, I believe I should probably expound upon my decision here to rank Seaside so high. They lose almost all their minutes from last year’s team, including a top 4 in Ryan Hague, Stephen Snyder, and Brayden and Beau Johnson who had a case as the best quartet in the state. Furthermore, they may not have a single senior in the program this year! But these appearances are deceiving: Seaside’s program is always deeper than it looks, due partly to Coach Bill Westerholm’s habit of swinging all his non-senior backups down to JV. Last year, we saw this next-man-up mentality in the emergence of Snyder, who became one of the Cowapa League’s stars in his sole year as a regular rotation player. I expect similar breakouts from multiple players in the Seagulls’ Class of 2022, which like Marshfield’s is stacked with talent. When playing with swingers, Seaside’s JV lineup would have been a solid varsity team last year on the backs of such players as G Everest Sibony and 6’5 P Cash Corder. Thus, much like Woodburn or Stayton last year, which rebounded surprisingly well after losing their top players from 2019, I expect Seaside to remain relevant at the state level.
  10.  Banks
    1. Key Returners*: W Joe Buliga (AC), P Tyler Exline (HM), P Charles White (HM), Tyler Exline (HM)
    2. Key Departures*: W Jacob Slifka (1-AS), G Jarred Evans (HM-AS)
    3. Oh, how the mighty Cowapa League has fallen. After three consecutive seasons of being the sole conference in the state championship game, the league couldn’t even get a single team to Forest Grove last year, and projects to be even worse this year. Banks in particular will suffer immensely from the graduation of Jacob Slifka, by my judgment 4A’s best player in 2020. Despite the lost starpower of he and Jarred Evans, however, the fact remains that the bulk of the roster returns from the #5 seed in last year’s playoffs, including scrappy G Jackson Walker, versatile W Joe Buliga, and a veritable stable of solid big men. These pieces alone will keep the team afloat, but for Banks to be legitimately good this year, Cooper Gobel must diversify his offensive game and become a respected playmaker. If he remains a mere catch-and-shoot player, the team simply won’t have the offensive firepower to compete, even in the depleted Cowapa. But with his 6’4 frame and flashes of talent last year, it’s a good bet that Gobel carries his football breakout over to the basketball court, and that this experienced side avoids a subpar season.

Also Considered:

  1. Siuslaw: my pick for most improved team in the state
  2. Junction City: return most of last year’s play-in squad

*The Cowapa League awards only “all-conference” (AC) and “honorable mention” (HM) designations