The two teams are expected to battle for supremacy in a highly competitive TRL

by: JOHN DENNY - With a veteran lineup, the Clackamas Cavaliers believe they have the horses to contend for the Three Rivers League boys basketball title this winter. Pictured are team captains (front, from left) Keaton Bankofier and Andrew Gutwig; and (back) Beau Gunderson and Cade Wilkins.West Linn and Clackamas are everyone’s picks to rule in Three Rivers League boys basketball this winter.

The Lions have six of their top players — including four starters — returning from last year’s team that won the Class 6A state title, after finishing second to state semifinalist Lake Oswego in the Three Rivers League.

And while Lake Oswego has graduated all six players who garnered all-league honors last year, Clackamas returns seven players with starting experience from last year, along with veterans Cade Wilkins and David Reese.

Wilkins, a 6-1 senior guard who started as a sophomore, sat out last year recuperating from knee surgery. Reese, a 6-9 senior post, missed last basketball season because of knee and back injuries, but earned all-league honors this fall as a lineman in football.

The Cavaliers looked sharp in last Friday’s season opener, an 84-47 trouncing of Centennial. Clackamas dominated despite the absence of Reese, who was away on a college visitation for football. The Cavaliers hit thirteen 3-pointers in the runaway win, with seven different players finding the basket from beyond the arc.

“It felt good to get back on the floor after not playing for two years,” said Wilkins. “It was a great feeling [when the first of my two 3-pointers passed through the net]. The team played great tonight. Very unselfish play, making that extra pass to get the open shot. It was good to see.”

“We have a lot of shooters,” said Clackamas senior guard Andrew Gutwig. “Everyone can shoot the three, which makes us more of a threat. We’ve also got lot of talented big kids. They kind of suck up the defenders, which leaves us open for the 3-point shot. We got a lot of open looks tonight.”

“We’re a lot further along at this point in the season than we were last year,” said Clackamas coach Ryan King. “Having some kids back that were hurt has helped....

“You can’t coach 6-9. David is healthy now and we’re excited to have him back on the floor. He’s got got hands, good feet and good body size.... Cade is a great leader and he can do some things with a basketball that others can’t do.”

Besides experience, Clackamas has good overall size. Reese is one of five players on the Cavaliers’ roster who stand 6-4 or taller.

Players returning to Clackamas’ varsity with starting experience from last year include: seniors Gutwig (6-2 shooting guard), Keaton Bankofier (6-7 post/wing), Taylor Stinson (6-6 post), Cole Scruggs (6-4 guard) and Aaron Ahlstrom (6-0 guard/point guard); and sophomores Mitchell Fink (5-10 point guard) and Beau Gunderson (6-1 guard).

Stinson was a second-team all-league selection last season, while Bankofier garnered honorable mention in the league all-star balloting.

Scruggs (15 points, four 3-pointers), Gutwig (13 points, three 3-pointers), Stinson (12 points), Bankofier (12 points) and Gunderson (10 points) all scored in double digits in the opener with Centennial. Fink was a playmaker, dishing out 12 assists.

Top returnees for the Lions are seniors Ryan Shearmire (6-6 post), Hayden Coppedge (6-5 guard) and Ty Cleland (6-0 guard); juniors Anthony Mathis (6-2 guard) and Kevin Edwards (6-2 guard); and sophomore Payton Pritchard (6-1 guard).

Shearmire and Mathis have both started since they were freshmen and they were both first-team all-league selections last season. Coppedge, a third-year-starter, made the league’s second all-star team a year ago, along with Pritchard.

Mathis (16 ppg), Shearmire (15.8 ppg) and Coppedge (13.2 ppg) all averaged in double digits in scoring last winter, while Pritchard averaged 9.5 points.

Gutwig (10.3 ppg), Ahlstrom (9.1 ppg), Bankofier (8.7 ppg) and Stinson (8.6 ppg) all made major contributions in a balanced Cavalier attack a year ago.

Rounding out Clackamas’ varsity roster are seniors Garrett Dahmen (6-3 guard/post) and Raekwon Mingledoff (6-2 guard), and juniors Markus Golder (6-4 post/guard) and Drew Conaway (6-1 wing). Mingledoff is a transfer from New Jersey.

“The Three Rivers League is going to be tough, top to bottom,” said King. “You’re going to have to come to play every night....

“West Linn will be favored to win state again; Lake Oswego will reload; Oregon City was young last year, so they’ll be better; Canby’s always tough; Lakeridge has [first-team all-league guard] Reggie Oliver back and they’re going to be tough....”

Oliver last season averaged 18.6 points per game and was the TRL’s second-leading scorer — behind Lake Oswego graduate Calvin Hermanson (21 ppg), who was the 2013 TRL MVP.

Among the players new to Lake Oswego’s lineup are Jazz Johnson, a 6-0 junior do-everything guard, who starred for Milwaukie last season.

“It is a tough league, but I think we can win it,” said Bankofier. “We’ve got all the pieces to the puzzle and we’re working hard....

“Obviously West Linn’s the favorite right now. They’re defending state champions. But we’re going to come after them. We’re going to play hard and try to get the ‘w.’ We’ve played them close before, so I know we can beat them. We just have to be consistent, and not have any lapses.”

“I think we can go as far as we want to go,” said Wilkins. “We’ve got to just come to practice and continue to work hard. We’re in a tough league, but anything can happen.”

“I think we’ve definitely got the talent [to win a league title],” said Gunderson. “It’s a great challenge. But if we play as a team, like we did tonight [in the game with Centennial], I think we can do it.”

The Cavaliers host South Salem next Tuesday. They’ll have their hands full Dec. 27-30, when they play in the Les Schwab Invitational at Liberty High School. Their tournament opener is with Whitney Young of Chicago, a team that is ranked third in the nation and features Duke signee Jahlil Okafor, a 6-10 post who is projected to be No. 1 in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Clackamas meets West Linn on the road in its Three Rivers League opener on Friday, Jan. 17.

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