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Glads are inexperienced, but talented

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Gladstone guys aim to make some noise


JOHN DENNY - There are a lot of new faces in Gladstone High Schools varsity boys basketball lineup this season. But that doesnt mean the Gladiators wont be successful. The players up from the jayvee are accustomed to winning, having gone 23-1 last season. The six seniors on the team believe the Gladiators have the horses to make it to the state tournament. Pictured are senior captains (front, left to right) Robbie Knewitz and Devin Neer; and (back) Bryce McNabb, Nick Brown, Skyler Bradford and Deion Fields.With only three players returning with any amount of playing time from last year, little was expected of this year’s Gladstone High School varsity boys basketball team this season.

But the Gladiators have been impressive, winning seven of their first 10 games, holding their own with some of the top teams in the state, and earning a 13th-in-the-state ranking.

“I have to admit I’m a little surprised we’ve done this well,” said Gladstone 6-5 post Skyler Bradford, the lone returning full-time starter from last year. “But we have a lot of players who work hard. They are working harder than the seniors did last year, and we’ve got better team chemistry. On and off the court, we all get along together.”

Last year an experienced, senior dominated Gladstone varsity boys basketball team won the Tri-Valley Conference title, but lost to state finalist North Marion in the round of 16 of the Class 4A state playoffs.

Bradford says he believes that, even with their lack of experience playing at the varsity level, this year’s team can surpass what last year’s team did.

“Our goals are to get to the state tournament and win a state championship,” Bradford said. “And I confidence in us reaching that goal. We just have to come out every game and play with intensity. Play hard and give it our all for four full quarters. Come out and play as a group, and play hard.”

The players new to the varsity are not without talent. They finished last season with a 23-1 record, winning every game after a season-opening loss to cross-town rival La Salle.

“We played as one,” said Devin Neer, a 5-10 senior who was a playmaking guard on last year’s jayvee team. “We were fast and we were physical. Playing on varsity isn’t that much different. It’s a little faster, not much. And the atmosphere is different — bigger crowds. That’s about it.”

Bradford says this year’s varsity doesn’t have the speed that last year’s team had. But he says the team has more depth and more versatile players. And they execute a lot better in the half-court game, he insists.

“We have people that come off the bench and can play wing, point guard and post,” said Bradford. “Last year we only had people playing post coming in off the bench.”

“In my mind we’re deeper [than last year],” said Gladstone head coach Cody Aker. “We’ve had multiple games where I’ve played 10 guys. That was one of the nice things about last year’s jayvee team. Everyone played a lot.”

This year’s Gladiator varsity includes six seniors: Bradford, Neer, 6-6 post Nick Brown, 6-3 wing Bryce McNabb, 6-0 wing Robbie Knewitz and 6-3 post Deion Fields.

Bradford, Brown and McNabb are the only players who saw significant playing time on varsity a year ago.

Rounding out this year’s varsity roster are: juniors Jose Rodriguez (6-3 wing), Quinn Carl (6-2 wing), Briggs Tatom (6-2 wing), Jordan Watts (6-2 wing) and Keaton Hogan (6-3 post); and sophomore Lyric Warren (5-10 point guard).

Bradford, Brown, McNabb, Rodriguez and Warren have been starting most of the preseason.

Brown and Bradford have been the go-to players on offense, averaging 18 and 15 points respectively.

The Gladiators have demonstrated potential in preseason, taking fourth-ranked Seaside down to the wire in a 46-45 loss and giving sixth-ranked Valley Catholic a run for its money in a 48-41 loss. They were up by 12 points heading into the fourth quarter of their loss to Seaside.

“We slowed down and didn’t push ourselves like we could have,” said Neer. “We learned from that game that we can’t let up in the fourth quarter. We did the same thing in our game with Valley Catholic.”

Aker said he sees the Tri-Valley Conference title chase as being wide-open, with Molalla, Crook County and hopefully his Gladiators being the top contenders.

He insists, “There is no favorite” to win the TVC.

Crook County returns three players who garnered TVC league all-star honors last year: seniors Seth Kessi (6-5 post), Blake Bartels (6-2 guard) and Garrett Harper (6-2 guard).

Madras returns two players who received league all-star recognition — seniors Bryce Rehwinkel (6-6 post) and Sean LeRiche (6-4 post).

Gladstone plays Banks on the road on Friday (Jan. 15) in its final tuneup for the league season.

The Gladiators begin league play on Tuesday, Jan. 19, playing Crook County (6-6) on the road. They have a home game with Madras (1-9) on Friday, Jan. 22.