By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McNary graduated all five starters off of last season’s basketball team that reached the sweet sixteen for the third year in a row.

Luckily for head coach Ryan Kirch, the Celtics return two players who would have probably started on most teams in seniors Chandler Cavell and Lucas Garvey.

Kirch also liked what he saw from the new crop of players this summer, when five different guys scored over 20 points in a game.

“We felt really good with where we’re at,” Kirch said. “We played and beat some pretty good teams. We’ll look a little different this year because of our size. There’s some differential between players where as last year guys were very similar. I like our group. I think we’ve got some aggressiveness, we’ve got some rebounding, we’ve got some guys that can shoot it a little bit.”

McNary’s size comes from two 6-5 juniors—Noah Hudkins and Boston Smith. The Celtics have also added Riccardo Gardelli, a 6-5 senior exchange student from Italy.

“We’ll see where he fits in the mix as far as getting defensive rotations and those sorts of things but he’s certainly a capable scorer,” Kirch said of Gardelli. “He’s a good athlete with a thick, strong body who can jump and shoot it a little bit and dunk in transition. It’s just a different style of game for him. He’s been great. He wants to learn. He’s excited to be here. We’re excited to have him.”

Senior Andrew Jones, who has put on muscle in the offseason, played varsity last year and will be counted on more this season.

“Guys like Andrew and Chandler and Lucas have been around long enough that I think they understand the expectation and they’ll do a good job leading,” Kirch said.

Junior guards Alfredo Villareal and Griffin Oliveira, two swing players last season between JV and varsity, have also impressed Kirch.

“Villarreal is a little lefty guard who can really get after it and defend and run an offense,” Kirch said. “Griffin Oliveira really surprised us during the summer with his competitiveness and plays a lot bigger than he is.”

Senior Daniel Zwemke and junior Jacob Jackson will also be counted on.

Defense and sharing the ball will again be staples for the Celtics.

“We like to dictate our offense by our defense,” Kirch said. “When kids buy into that you give them a little freedom to play out in transition and that’s fun for them. We certainly maintain that and giving up a good shot for a great shot and being unselfish.”

Kirch expects the Greater Valley Conference to be just as tough as it was last season. Sprague returns four starters, including Teagan Quitoriano, co-GVC Player of the Year and a first team all-state selection. West Salem senior Kyle Greeley, the other GVC Player of the Year, is also back along with two other starters.

“We’re kind of under the radar, which is fine by us,” Kirch said. “I think we’ll surprise some people. I think our kids have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, 61 wins in the last three years, some people may think it’s over and done with but our kids feel challenged to maintain that reputation of being a very difficult team to play.”

McNary opens the season Thursday, Nov. 30 at home against Grants Pass at 7 p.m.