They’ve had success on the baseball diamond (state champions) and the football field (semifinals) … now it’s time for the Knappa boys basketball program to get in on the trophy action.
With a roster stocked full of talent — including three all-league returners — the Loggers should find themselves among the final eight in Pendleton this season, after coming up one win short of the state tournament in 2016-17.
“We have a lot of guys who have been through the battle,” said Knappa coach Chris Spencer. “We’ve got key contributors in multiple sports, so hopefully we can have some carry-over from football, into basketball season. That winning tradition is something you can’t teach.”
Expect a lot of 30, 40 and 50-point victories for Knappa in league this year. Other than Columbia Christian, there won’t be much competition for the top two teams.
That’s why Knappa is loading up on big teams in the preseason (Astoria, Regis, Western Mennonite).
Spencer said, “Columbia Christian will be the favorite in our league, then us and Vernonia fighting for the next spot,” Spencer said.
“Vernonia has Clay Sullivan, a Player of the Year candidate; he’s going to score a lot of points. Columbia Christian has a 6-6 freshman, Ben Gregg, who’s already on the recruiting radar. They also have a 6-6 transfer from Jefferson, another 6-8 freshman, and they bring back three key players. They could start four guys over 6-5.”
That’s how the private schools “rebuild,” Spencer said. “Us country folk, we take the guys we get, work with them, and play hard-nosed basketball.”
“We lost some blue-collar guys,” Spencer said. “Jason Miller did a little bit of everything; Ethan Rubus, Mitch Geisler and Mike Goodman were unsung, high-character leaders. We’ll miss their leadership, and we’ll need some guys to step up in that area.”
Don’t despair Logger fans, There’s plenty of talent returning, such as seniors Dale Takalo and Colton Weirup, the best 1-2 punch in the NWL.
“You’re never going to take No. 5 out of the lineup,” Spencer said of Takalo. “He’s the first one in the gym, and the last one to leave. He’s so versatile he can play point guard, center … it doesn’t matter. He started as a freshman, every game as a sophomore and a junior, first team all-league the last two years, a 20-point-a-night guy … he’s the type of player who can put us over the top and make a run for a league championship. He’s basically everything of what we do.”
Weirup is “a man on a mission; he’s been ready to go since Day 1. He could set the tone for us.”
Knappa’s third returning all-leaguer is junior Timber Engblom, who “came on the second half of last season. He’s a junior and will play much more of an increased role.
“He will be one of the primary ball handlers, and good at getting to the hoop; he’s a two-way player, locking guys up on defense and pushing the tempo on offense.”
Then there’s senior Kaleb Miller (the Loggers are allowed one transfer), who came from Pleasant Hill two years ago and played a pretty important role in Knappa’s successful football season.
Other seniors are Reece Hunt (“provides depth and scoring on the block, and toughness inside”); and Braedon Eltagonde (“real athletic, another versatile player who can play in different areas”).
Other players expected to see action: junior Ty Vanderburg (“could be a breakout player this year. Kind of a Dale Takalo clone, some of the inside-outside ability”); and sophomores Kanai Phillip, Joe Ramvick and Eli Takalo, all potential all-leaguers.
Spencer will be assisted by Paul Isom, Tim Miller and Jed Miethe.
Prediction: The No. 1 seed out of the Northwest League, and a Final Four run for the Loggers.
Knappa Boys Basketball
Coach: Chris Spencer, 5th year
2016-17: 18-9 (14-4 league)
State Playoffs: Lost first-round game at Imbler, 51-49
All-league loss: Jason Miller
All-league returners: Timber Engblom, Jr.; Dale Takalo, Sr.; Colton Weirup, Sr.