By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– McKay’s Dean Sanderson came walking into the gym Tuesday holding a bright green McKay Gameday Jersey. He looks at a few athletes, saying a few words and then calls the team together at midcourt where he started talking about respecting the Jersey and those who have worn the Jersey before them and that the Jersey is bigger than themselves.
For 10-years now Sanderson has seen his fair share of ups-and-downs as the Head Coach of the Scots program. He coached McKay to a sixth-place finish in 2010, saw them go 5-19 four years ago and the last two seasons has seen the Scots go 22-28 with two play-in opportunities, coming mere points to reaching the Field of 32 the last two seasons that included a key win over West Salem in 2016 and a double-Overtime win over Sprague last season.
With the bulk of his team practically new, Sanderson knows this season will be challenging replacing kids like Andre Tovar, Khyler Beach, Droji Joel and Israel Garza to name a few, with the new season tipping off here on Friday at North Salem.
“This is our tenth-year and us coaches are blessed, I’m blessed to be here again to be with these kids,” said Sanderson. “Whatever our situation is record-wise, experience-wise all that…it still doesn’t change that it’s really important, that jersey is really important,” starts Sanderson as Ryan Bangs and Levi Betty float around practice. “McKay basketball has been important to a lot of people and so that’s something that we’re learning is that it’s important to respect the people who worn it before.
“And you do that not by winning games, you do that by coming in here getting better every day. Compete at an absolute…the highest level possible.”
Tre Ceja and KR Tipkins saw some Varsity minutes last season while Malachi Sterling dressed down for McKay last season, but that’s the extent of playing time that they saw entering this season.
Being around that atmosphere, seeing and experiencing what it takes to be a Varsity athlete has helped them preparing for the challenges of continuing what the last two seasons have been in terms of setting up some momentum for this season.
“It helped us realize that McKay isn’t the school people portray it to be like because I hear a lot of people when I’m at the gym, I hear a lot of people say McKay is lazy and we don’t work hard. But those last two seasons, it just shows people that when McKay puts their mind to it, we can accomplish a lot of stuff,” said Ceja, “What we experienced last year on the bench, we realize what tough atmosphere are like. Close games situations so we know what to do in those situations better and not to rush our shots or anything. Just take our time on offense if we need it.”
“It’s just all up to our effort. Just play hard and keep playing until the final whistle,” adds Tipkins. “This year, since all of our Seniors left, we’ll have to dig-in and try even harder. We’re going to have to grind.”
And one of the younger players coming up that caught Sanderson’s eye with his work ethic and how much work he’s put in up to this point and he continued into Tuesday’s practice was sophomore Ivan Gutierrez.
“Hopefully inspire my teammates to work as hard as me and just keep outworking teams,” said Gutierrez on putting in the work this off-season entering the season. “Coach is still pushing us to the same standards as he did last year, so our job is to meet that expectation and hopefully exceed.”
And with their first test on Friday in what is most likely to be a packed house at North Salem to kick off the season, those same expectations that Sanderson had last season are still there to compete and be the best that they can be. Tip-off on Friday is scheduled at 7pm.