They've got one of the top point guards in the state and two tall posts to lead the way
OREGON CITY - A lot of people believe that Oregon City has a chance to dethrone Three Rivers League boys basketball champion Lake Oswego.
But no one says it will be easy.
The Lakers are defending state champions and they've got three talented starters back from last year's team.
Seniors Kevin Love (6-10 post) and Ernie Spada (6-0 guard) are both seeing their fourth season of starting action, and senior Taylor Marr (6-0 guard) is a third-year starter.
Love, who has been touted by Sports Illustrated and ESPN as the top high school basketball player in the country, led the state in scoring last season, averaging 28 points an outing, and double figures in rebounding.
'Lake Oswego and Oregon City are definitely the top two teams [in the TRL],' said Clackamas coach Jeff Bair. 'I don't know in which order….
'Both teams have the talent to be league champs. They're among the top teams in the state.'
Junior Brad Tinsley is Oregon City's only returning starter. But Tinsley is perhaps the top point guard in the state. And the Pioneers have a formidable front line, with 6-9 senior post Sam Schafer and 6-8 senior post Jared Cunningham in their starting lineup.
There's also a strong supporting cast with a number of athletic players up from a jayvee team that was one of the best around in 2005-06.
'Our goals are to play together as a team, to have more wins than last year and to get the league championship,' said Tinsley. 'We like to set the bar high.'
'Having size alone is going to make a difference,' said Oregon City coach Mike Doherty. 'The potential is there to be a little better team than last year….
'Everyone has pretty much conceded first place to [defending state champion] Lake Oswego. I don't know if we'll have as many wins as last year, because we've got a tougher schedule, but we're going to be a pretty decent team.'
Doherty, in his 10th season with the Pioneers, is unquestionably one of the top coaches in the state. He's coached high school basketball for 46 seasons and his teams had a combined 739-340 win-loss record heading into the 2006-07 season. His Oregon City team went 20-6 last year, bowing out of the Class 4A state playoffs with a second-round loss to Jesuit. Oregon City was the only league team to challenge Lake Oswego, taking the Lakers down to the wire in a 70-67 barnburner in early January.
The Pioneers proved themselves over the summer, dominating most opponents in a 36-game schedule.
'We played in the Gonzaga Tournament and went to the final eight,' said Schafer. 'And we won the Aloha Tournament. We met Aloha and Jesuit and we beat them.'
The Pioneers have been impressive in early preseason this winter, out-scoring their first three opponents by an average score of 84-53, despite a tough schedule.
Last Thursday, they humbled Mt. Hood Conference title contender Centennial, as they flew up and down the floor en route to a 99-56 runaway win.
And on Dec. 2, they rolled to an early lead en route to a 71-60 win at Aloha, which is considered one of the top teams in the Metro League.
Lake Oswego and Oregon City were ranked first and fourth in the state respectively in last week's Associated Press poll.
There's additional incentive to win league this year, because the TRL runner-up will have to beat second-ranked South Medford on the road in order to advance to the state Class 6A Tournament.
'Lake Oswego and South Medford are good teams,' said Schafer. 'But I think we're a pretty good team too.'
'I don't know if we can beat Lake Oswego,' said Tinsley. 'But if we play hard and give it our all, we can accept the result, win or lose.'
Cunningham and Tinsley have paced the Pioneers in early preseason play.
Cunningham, a transfer from Lake Oswego, averaged 23 points a game for the Pioneers' first three contests.
Tinsley averaged 22.3 points in Oregon City wins over Centennial, Aloha and Forest Grove.
One of the most highly recruited juniors in the state, as a sophomore Tinsley averaged 21 points on 56 percent shooting, and six assists.
'There's a bumper crop of five [junior] guards in the state considered to be Division I prospects,' said Doherty. 'In my opinion, when they get to their senior year, Brad is going to be considered the top candidate of those five.
'Brad has more potential for developing than any of them. He's the best passer, and he's got great court vision. He might be the best I've ever coached.'
Doherty said Tinsley is getting the attention of recruiters at a number of schools, including Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford, Arizona State, Pepperdine, Gonzaga, Utah and New Mexico.
Schafer last year saw limited playing time because of health issues. But he's back healthy and when he's on the floor with Cunningham, the two of them are difficult to stop.
Cunningham excels from the outside, as well as close to the basket. He scored 33 points and nabbed 14 rebounds in the game with Centennial, connecting with 4-for-8 success on 3-pointers.
Returning letterman Colton Sundquist (5-10 guard) joins Tinsley, Schafer and Cunningham in the starting lineup.
Senior Matt Hollands (6-0 guard) and junior Bryce Kinney (6-2 wing) are battling one another for the fifth starting spot.
Juniors Kamal Smith (6-4 wing/post) and Tyler Kirchhofer (6-0 guard) are also likely to see a considerable amount of playing time, according to Doherty.
Cunningham, Hollands and Sundquist are the only seniors on the team.
Rounding out the varsity roster are: juniors Dwayne Guisinger (6-0 guard), Rayce Belmont (5-10 guard) and Casey Poore (6-4 wing/post); and sophomore Derek Haak (5-10 guard).
Haak played on a freshman team that went 18-6 last season.