Wilsonville senior Kyle Counts scored 30 points in 19 minutes in the team's opening win over Ashland. (Photo by Greg Artman)
Wilsonville senior Kyle Counts scored 30 points in 19 minutes in the team's opening win over Ashland. (Photo by Greg Artman)

For much of last season, Wilsonville's boys basketball team didn't look much like a state champion.

The Wildcats lost three games in the 5A Northwest Oregon Conference, more than they had in the previous seven seasons combined. Their streak of conference titles ended at eight.

“We weren't perfect,” coach Chris Roche said.

When the smoke cleared, though, the Wildcats were holding the 5A championship trophy for the third consecutive postseason and fifth time in six postseasons. As they ramp up for 2023-24, Roche believes that the struggle of last season will benefit the Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in the OSAAtoday preseason 5A coaches poll.

“These guys know how hard it was last year,” said Roche, who has guided his team to the last seven state finals. “Our guys know they have to earn everything, because last year it was a battle. I think they have a respect for the process.”

With four returning starters, Wilsonville is 3-0. The Wildcats won the Wilsonville Invitational Tournament Dec. 1-3, defeating Ashland 60-45, Redmond 62-37 and North Marion 62-54.

It was solid beginning considering three of their returning starters – senior wing Kallen Gutridge (6-4), senior guard Nick Colyer (6-2) and junior post Emmitt Fee (6-5) – played on the 5A champion football team and had only three days of practice before the first game. Their other returning starter, senior wing Kyle Counts (6-7), was coming off knee surgery.

“We're a little bit disjointed right now with the football guys coming back,” Roche said. “They're just getting into shape. I was encouraged. I thought we showed some toughness and grit when we had some challenges.”

The left-handed Gutridge, a fourth-year starter, was first-team all-state last season, averaging a team-high 21.5 points per game. He is coming off a football season in which he threw 57 touchdown passes.

“He's going to have some monster games in hoops, too,” Roche said of Gutridge, who scored 25 points against North Marion, making several key plays down the stretch. “He's an even better basketball player. He's a total gamer. During the winning time of the game, he steps up.”

Gutridge wasn't 100 percent healthy during the offseason, so Roche believes Gutridge has much more to show college coaches. As it stands, Gutridge has college offers from North Dakota, Air Force and Fairfield.

“He really can do a lot,” Roche said. “You can't rattle him too much. He's seen so many things, so many defenses, he just plays through it.”

Counts, the grandson of former Oregon State great and NBA player Mel Counts, averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists as an NWOC first-team selection last season.

Counts underwent a minor procedure on his knee in the offseason and is working his way back to full strength. He was impressive in the season-opening win over Ashland, scoring 30 points in 19 minutes, before sitting out the Redmond game the next day.

“He's a key guy for us because he can do so many things,” Roche said of Counts, who has signed with St. Thomas, a Division I program in Minneapolis. “He's such a skilled big guy that really makes us go.”

Colyer has moved to point guard to replace the graduated Maxim Wu. Gutridge and Counts also are capable to breaking down defenses off the dribble.

“We have a lot of guys we feel can initiate offense for us,” Roche said. “When we get all right, when we get rolling, I think we have a chance to be deeper this year.”

The Wildcats will try to regain the title from La Salle Prep in what promises to be a strong NWOC. As for 5A, top-ranked Summit, the team Wilsonville defeated in the final last season, is the early favorite.

“I think Summit again is the team to beat,” Roche said. “I think 5A is much deeper.”

Union takes down No. 1 Crane

Spurred by emotion from the passing of Jill McCraw – the wife of assistant coach Joel McCraw and the mother of sophomore Joey McCraw – host Union upset top-ranked and two-time reigning 1A champion Crane 58-46 in the 1A Preview tournament Thursday.

Junior Chase Koshinsky had 25 points and 10 rebounds, making 5 of 7 three-point attempts, and senior Tee Ledbetter had 12 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks as the No. 4 Bobcats (5-0) stopped the Mustangs (4-1).

Crane, undefeated against 1A teams the last two seasons, led by 12 points early in the third quarter before Union came back. The Bobcats took the lead for the first time early in the fourth quarter and pushed the lead to double digits inside the final two minutes.

Jill McCraw passed away Tuesday after a two-year bout with colon cancer. The team canceled its game against Heppner that day and returned to the court for the first time against Crane.

“We celebrated Jill by playing the way she would want us to play – tough and determined,” Union coach Odin Miller said. “It was especially meaningful with so many of her family members in attendance.

“All of our guys that took the court played with such clarity and resilience, just like Jill would have wanted them to. The intensity of that game will be a memory I won't ever forget.”

Union won all three of its games in the tournament, defeating Country Christian 68-41 on Friday and No. 10 Perrydale 48-38 on Saturday. Ledbetter had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Koshinsky added 11 points against Country Christian. Ledbetter scored a team-high 17 points against Perrydale.

Jill McCraw's other two sons attend Union schools, Jace (eighth grade) and Jordy (third grade). Miller said Jill was one of the basketball program's biggest supporters, bringing an “infectious smile and positive energy.”

“She fought so hard for her husband and sons, and we will forever hold her dear in our hearts,” Miller said. “She has inspired us and will be a driving force for us moving forward, as we will always reflect on her character and strength during hard times.”

Barlow tops Tualatin

Barlow is making a strong case to be the team to beat in 6A.

The No. 3 Bruins (4-0) continued their impressive start by winning their own Barlow Trail Tournament over the weekend, beating Grant 53-45 on Friday before dropping No. 1 Tualatin 69-59 in the final Saturday.

Jalen Atkins, a 6-3 junior guard, scored 30 points to lead the win over Tualatin (2-2), making six three-pointers and all 10 of his free throws. Brayden Barron, a 6-6 junior forward, made two three-pointers and finished with 16 points and six rebounds.

Barlow led 33-23 at half before the Timberwolves made a push, closing to within 45-42 after three quarters. But the Bruins responded in the fourth quarter as Atkins and Barron scored 10 and eight points, respectively.

Tualatin senior forward Jaden Steppe (6-8) led his team with 20 points and 15 rebounds. The Timberwolves beat No. 4 Roosevelt 58-55 on Friday to advance.

Notes: Benson senior Dylan Douangphrachanh, a 6-4 wing, scored 52 points in an 88-83 loss at Nelson in the team's opener, the Techsters' only game so far. He shot 14 of 25 from the field, including 1 of 5 on three-pointers, and hit 23 of 27 free throws. He also had 18 rebounds, four assists and one steal. … Lincoln senior Tanner Overby, a 6-1 post who scored 41 points in the team's opener against Grants Pass, poured in 43 on Friday in an 81-74 win over West Salem. He made 21 of 22 free throws in the game. Overby is averaging 29.8 points through four games for the Cardinals (3-1). … Gresham senior guard RJ Alexander scored 37 points Friday to lead the Gophers (3-1) past Sunset 70-62. … South Medford senior guard Jackson Weiland surpassed 1,000 career points in the team's season opener Dec. 1, scoring 29 points as the Panthers (1-2) defeated Sherwood 65-53.