By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
Optimism fills the McNary High School gym as the boys basketball team prepares for its upcoming season, which tips off Friday, Dec. 2 at Grants Pass.
“It’s going to be a special group,” head coach Ryan Kirch said. “It could be as good as we’ve had. They’re just all good kids. They’ll all be enrolled in college next year. They’re all honor roll kids. They all come from great families. They’re all great friends. You just don’t get groups like this anymore. We’re talented in a lot of ways and have as much potential as any group we’ve had.”
Senior Cade Goff shared his coach’s confidence after the first day of practice.
“It’s easy to jump to conclusions but I’ve practiced varsity for four years now and that was probably the best first day of defense we’ve had,” Goff said. “I’m excited to see how we do defensively and how that leads to transition points and allows us to run up and down the floor.”
One thing that makes the Celtics special is their toughness.
“You’ve got to be physically and mentally tough and I think this group is as physically and mentally tough as any group I’ve coached,” Kirch said.
McNary’s toughness starts with junior Mathew Ismay, a two-time Greater Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year who took a school record 23 chargers last season, including four in one game.
“He’s very smart so he’s always where he needs to be,” Kirch said. “He anticipates as opposed to reacts. You just watch the way he plays. He’s a guy that’s not very flashy from a fan’s standpoint, you may not see all the little things he does but it’s just a difference for us when he comes off the floor.”
McNary graduated about 25 points per game in Trent Van Cleave and GVC Player of the Year Harry Cavell but Kirch believes the Celtics have the pieces to make up for those losses.
“This summer, we had seven different guys score 20 or more points in a game,” Kirch said. “Scoring won’t be an issue for us. In fact, I think in a lot of ways we’ll be tougher to defend in that I think our ball movement is better. I think we take care of the ball a little bit better. There’s not really a guy that you can shut down. Last year, we knew Harry was the guy and teams could game plan around that. This year it’s going to be more of a challenge. We’ve got a lot of diversity with our players and guys can do a lot of different things.”
Senior Alex Martin agreed.
“I definitely expect us to be able to run with eight or nine guys and be really deep,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can really play. It should be a lot of fun this year.”
McNary returns four players with varsity starting experience—Goff, Ismay, Martin and Adam Harvey. Senior Easton Neitzel and junior Chandler Cavell are also back. Kevin Martin returns from a shoulder injury that cost him last season while juniors Lucas Garvey and Andrew Jones are coming up from the junior varsity.
“Alex and Easton and Lucas are probably our best outside shooters, though a lot of guys can shoot,” Kirch said. “Cade and Chandler can really attack the rim. Matthew and Adam can really score from all over the place. We can score from outside. We can score from inside. We can attack the rim. We can score in transition. There’s not really a part of our game offensively that’s lacking.”
While the Celtics should have no problem scoring in transition, Kirch said executing in the half court will be the key to making a deep playoff run.
Advancing to the elite eight in Portland is on the minds of McNary’s six seniors who have been eliminated in the second round of the state tournament the last two years.
“We want to get over that hump,” Goff said. “We don’t want to be in the final 16. We want to be in the final eight.”
“We definitely want to get up to Portland and compete for a state championship,” Alex Martin said. “The two teams we’ve lost to, South Salem and North Medford, the year before, were both really good teams. I think this year we’ll be a lot better and more prepared for that kind of situation.”