By Jeremy McDonald
MILL CITY, Ore.–At the 2A level, it’s hard to replace two starters and a key bench player from a deep playoff push as Santiam Boys Basketball has to this season.
Jesse Sendlinger and Trevor Whitmire started with Dustin Keys coming off the bench as the three racked up 191 of the Wolverines 476 minutes of play over in Pendleton in Santiam’s sixth-place finish in the 2A State Playoffs last season. Connor Forste, the Wolverines fourth and final Senior from last years team tallied three more minutes as the four seniors accounted for roughly 41-percent of the playing minutes as they enter this season.
Yes replacing those minutes will be hard, but Santiam’s returning a strong core from that squad last year as the Tri-River Conference’s looking to be as tough once more.
“It’s always tough,” smiled Colin Thurston about league. “I’ve looked at all the rosters and saw all the guys that have graduated and just seeing what they have left. I think we’ve got a pretty good chance when it comes to match-ups. We’ve been working hard and I think with just the growth with this team and the bond that we all share together, I think it’ll take us a lot further in league than what teams think of us.”
Thurston, Kobe Dyer, Hunter Reeser, Chazz Storm return this season. Thurston and Dyer are coming back online after suffering injuries during football season, Dyer worked with the team Tuesday night while Thurston waited until Wednesday when he got cleared to participate once again.
The importance of having those guys coming back coming off of their second Pendleton trip in three years mixed in with some new faces like freshman Ty Best, Erza Downey and Jake Dixon on the Varsity roster full-time this season.
They’re just coming out, working out hard in practice. Playing their roles, so far everyone’s working hard and doing well in practice so it’s looking good. Everyone’s stepping up,” said Reeser of the younger kids stepping up with the returners. “Just knowing the plays and everyone working together. We have a really good team chemistry this year, everyone’s working well together, it’s going to be fun.”
Head Coach JD Hill talked about the mental aspect of the game at the end of the practice Tuesday night, and with a league that has strong returners coming back for Western Christian, Sheridan and Kennedy, the need for that strong mental aspect of the game will be important this season to go with their physical talent.
“It’s definitely going to be huge. We’re kind of in that middle ground where we got a lot of underclassmen and a lot of young guys, but we got some guys who have played a lot of Varsity minutes,” said Thurston. “And getting into more of a advanced level mentally. Being able to see our progressions before they happen rather than making the read right when it opens.
“So just the little things like that that’s going to push us to the next level and hopefully gets us further in the playoffs.”
The Wolverines open the 2019-2020 season December 6 at the Silver Cross Tournament at East Linn Christian against Myrtle Point at 4:30pm.