Boys basketball: Gervais caps June season with Payton Ford Summer Classic
With the June summer league season winding to a close, the Gervais boys basketball team took advantage of its final opportunities to practice in anticipation of the school's move to the 2A Classification this fall.
Along with the girls basketball program, the boys played host on June 29 and 30 to a half dozen programs from around the region in the Payton Ford Summer Classic, the first of a planned annual tournament the boys and girls basketball will hold in honor of a Gervais Middle School student who died in an ATV accident this past spring.
"It was felt through the community," Gervais boys head coach Ben Schultz said. "A lot of coaches for the Gervais Sports League knew (Payton), because he was a big proponent through our AAU program. It was a big shock, but I think the community grieved together and we're just happy to be able to put (the tournament) on."
The high school basketball programs gave half the proceeds from the tournament to Ford's family and plan to use future iterations of the event as a fundraiser to build a college scholarship fund that can be used to help Gervais graduates seeking post high school education.
The tournament also acts as the final cap to the month-long summer season before student athletes break apart for work, travel or leisure in July. The Gervais boys have been hard at work over the previous month, preparing for the 2018-19 season when they will leave the 3A PacWest Conference in favor of the 2A Tri-River Conference, newly reformed with Chemawa, Colton, Culver, Delphian and Sheridan joining Tri-River holdovers Kennedy, Santiam and Western Mennonite.
Schultz described summer league as a Jeckyl and Hyde experience — allowing the coaches to give valuable minutes and experience to players expected to play expanded roles next season, but with the caveat of not having a consistent roster from game to game due to summer commitments from the players.
"Summer league is kind of that double edged sword," Schultz said. "The guys are out there getting experience, but you hate it because a lot of the time the guys aren't out there.
"It was good in the aspect of that we got the guys minutes," he added. We gave them a lot of freedom. In general it gives our guys a chance to get better."
Among the players who weren't available during the summer season, the most impactful and permanent was all-conference wing Elvis Vallejo, who will transfer to Silverton High School for his senior season. A team captain last year, Vallejo was a versatile ball handler and play maker who could create his own offense and could play and defend multiple positions for the Cougars.
"He does everything that you want," Schultz said. "He's that leader on the court and outside the court as well. We'll miss him, but we're just going to have the next guy up."
Vallejo's role will likely be spread between a number of guys looking to step up next season, such as incoming junior guards Xaden Ramon, Daniel Hernandez and Erny Ramos. But the biggest impact from Vallejo's departure likely falls in the hands of incoming senior Pedro Villegas.
A Second Team All-Conference honoree last year, Villegas already was the team's primary offensive threat, and he has all the tools to pick up the additional production that Vallejo leaves behind. Villegas is a dangerous shooter when his shot is falling and has the offensive instincts and athletic ability to be a First Team All-Conference player next year, if not a threat to make the All-State team. The Cougars will succeed or fail based on Villegas' abilities next year, and Schultz is not afraid to put that kind of pressure on his shoulders.
"We've told him he has to be Russel Westbrook," Schultz said. "He has to be the guy who scores 25, 30 points a game. He's got to be overall that guy. He can do it."
But the same passion that drives Villegas to be the best player on the court in any given game can also be his Achilles heel. Villegas has developed a reputation among opposing teams and officials as a mercurial player who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Schultz said it is up to Villegas to harness that zeal this winter and turn it into a strength he can control, instead of a weakness for others to exploit.
"The other teams know it. They know exactly who he is and how dangerous he can be when he plays with his head on straight," Schultz said. "He's going to have to do some maturing over the summer. He has to be that guy who not only knows he has to step up, but has to want to."
Of course, Villegas won't be alone on the court. He'll be leading a relatively young group of players who are shaping up to give Gervais a fair amount of size next season. The most experienced is returning starter Alex Kalugin, who enters his junior season standing 6-foot-4 and is expected to be a breakout player this winter.
"Alex is going to be looked upon," Schultz said. "He's put a lot of muscle from the football workouts, as well as his job as a painter."
Then there's incoming sophomores Brian Limage and Auggie Guido, both of whom have added several inches to their frame since their freshman season and are listed at 6-foot-5. With Ramos at the wing and Villegas running the offense, Schultz will have the opportunity next season to send out lineups where every player for the Cougars is at or above 6 feet tall.
"We'll be bigger," Schultz said. "We're looking forward to the change. We'll be young, but we're excited."