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Pioneers season gets underway

Sandy coach encouraged by depth of roster


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO - Many players are returning this season to the Sandy boys basketball team, including Jacob Groom, above. The Pioneers started the 2012 season this week with tryouts.

Sandy boys basketball head coach Jason Maki took a handful of coaches and players to Eugene last season to watch the 5A state basketball tournament. Finally, they weren’t just talking about the dream — they were visualizing it.

During one of the games, Maki took a picture of the court, then sent it to every player on the team. “This is our goal,” it read.

On Monday, the group began preparations for Eugene by holding tryouts to open the 2012-13 season.

Sixty-two students showed up to try out for the 36 spots available on the three boys basketball teams. Final cuts will be made this week, but the varsity team is already well solidified. Only four players graduated from last year’s team, and the core of that lineup returns this season.

Maki says he already has 10 players who will be impact performers, and tryouts will identify just a couple more students who could play a supporting role.

“Teams aren’t 10 players deep,” he says. “This is pretty amazing.”

With high praise comes high expectations, and even though practice has just begun, the Pioneers aren’t slinking away from their ultimate goal this season. There is an open forum among the team to discuss expectations and the hope to be in Eugene come playoffs.

“We have a chance to be really good,” Maki says.

During the initial weeks of practice, Maki will focus practice on strength and conditioning in order to allow the team to play at a faster tempo, a trait absent from Sandy’s varsity squads in previous seasons.

In previous seasons, Maki’s teams have often played zone, but Maki believes running the floor fits the mold of this year’s team.

He attributes that to several factors, including the style of his players and the depth of his roster.

“This is the first time in the last couple of years that we’ve had enough depth to push the ball,” he says.

But with more players who can play significant minutes, Maki doesn’t have to worry as much about stamina and make substitutions whenever necessary.

Sandy also will preach energy and strength during the coming weeks in order to prepare for weekly tests in one of the state’s best conferences.

The Northwest Oregon Conference has several teams that are also vying for a trip to Eugene. Sherwood is projected to be one of the favorites, while Milwaukie, which finished second last year, has three transfer players who should play big roles. There’s also Wilsonville, which won the league last year. And don’t sleep on St. Helens, a team that graduated only one player last year.

Given the depth on the league, Maki is preparing his players for a year of battles.

“I want to see how tough we are,” Maki says. “How do we respond to a street brawl type of game that we’ll play when we face Sherwood?”

Preseason also will be a chance for players to adapt to their new roles. Maki says Justin Adams, a second-team all-league selection last year, will replace Ryan Cargill, who graduated last year, in the post in order to utilize his size and shoot less three-pointers. Jacob Groom, also a second-team all-league selection, will move to the wing and shoot a little more.

While most teams around the state start playing games on Dec. 1 or 2, Sandy doesn’t open the year until Dec. 7 when it hosts its annual “Sandy Tournament.” So the Pioneers will have a little extra time to condition themselves and prepare for role changes.