The Cougars will compete in the Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic as part of their trip to the Bay Area.

by: JEFF GOODMAN - Jordan Sanders and the Canby boys basketball team will compete Dec. 26-28 in a tournament in San Francisco. Above, the senior forward enters the lane Dec. 20 against Sherwood.They probably won’t be wearing flowers in their hair, but the members of the Canby boys basketball team are going to San Francisco.

In the evening Dec. 25, the Cougars are gathering their bags and piling into mini vans on a road trip to the Bay Area for a week of competition, sightseeing and camaraderie.

The cornerstone of their journey is participation in the Leo LaRocca Sand Dune Classic, a three-day tournament at St. Ignatius College Preparatory that begins Dec. 26.

This year marks Canby’s first appearance in school history in the 38th-annual edition of the tournament, which is named after the private school’s former longtime athletic director.

But it’s not the first time the Cougars (3-1) are traveling beyond Oregon’s borders for basketball under fourth-year coach Craig Evans.

Two seasons ago, his team competed in the Desert Oasis tournament in Las Vegas, winning two of its three games against Nevada squads.

“It’s a bonding experience,” Evans said. “Since I got the job (at Canby High School), I’ve told the guys that every other year I want to go somewhere, spend a few days together and just really bond. Two years ago it did wonders for our team, and I think it’ll be great for this team also.”

Evans, whose father’s family has Bay Area ties, began looking into holiday tournaments last year and contacted St. Ignatius when he learned of their annual event. The rest is history.

The Cougars will play their first game Dec. 26 against Oakland (Calif.) Skyline, the alma mater of former Seattle Supersonics star Gary Payton. The outcome of that showdown will determine their next opponent, either San Francisco-Mission or host St. Ignatius.

Evans said he looks forward to games against unfamiliar opponents because they force his team to focus on its own strategies. His players will have to adjust and react to other teams’ strengths without prep time.

Whereas they often cross paths with friends and acquaintances during Three Rivers League play, they won’t have similar distractions in San Francisco.

“It’s the unknown, which I like the kids to experience,” Evans said. “They have to play someone they know nothing about. It’s about who executes better.”

Canby’s physical endurance will likely be tested in games on three-straight days, although Evans has experience coaching teams in tournaments with similar formats.

The team went 3-0 in the Centennial Winter Classic three seasons ago, defeating Hood River Valley, Portland-Parkrose and Forest Grove on three-consecutive days.

Two years ago the Cougars played in the Barlow Trail Classic in Gresham, routing Portland-Madison before falling to host Barlow and Vancouver (Wash.) Union.

And last season they participated in the South Salem Classic, going 2-1 with wins over Corvallis and host South Salem.

But there’s something about traveling to another state that Evans believes will be beneficial for his team later in the season.

“It gets the kids out of their comfort zone,” he said. “I see a lot of maturing from the kids after a trip like this.”

Of course, Canby isn’t heading home immediately after the tournament ends. The team will stay in the Bay Area for a few days of entertaining activities.

The Cougars will attend a San Jose Sharks hockey game, ride roller coasters at the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park in Vallejo and stroll along San Francisco’s pier.

They are scheduled to return home Dec. 31.

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