Cranston's returnees, who went 18-7/11-3 a year ago, include 6-8 senior Brandon Johnson (10ppg) who is getting looks from a half dozen or so D-1 programs. Johnson also averaged six boards per game and showed his versatility buy shooting 42% from three-point range. "Brandon's an agile big man, can put it on floor and has a strong array of low posts moves," the coach told us.
6-2 senior guard Nik Raivio also hit for 10ppg while setting a school record by hitting 90% from the foul line a year ago. "Nik's an excellent passer with great vision." Raivio had a strong summer and is also garnering recruiting attention.
6-5 sophomore Jesse Norris started as a freshman and is, in the coaches words, a "much improved inside player." Jesse's our best interior defender and a good rebounder."
6-1 senior Kenny Smith (9ppg) will run the point. "Kenny also has great court vision."
Transfer JC Alexander is a 6-0 senior and is a solid combo guard who can, in the coaches words "stroke the 3 and is also good off the dribble."
His team's strength according to the coach is their depth. "We have 4 returning starters and a transfer who started. We'll have a lot of scoring punch with 3 double figure scorers returning. This team is much deeper and more talented than last year's 18 win team." Size will be a factor for the Thunder with 5 players 6-4 or taller.
Concerns for the coach? "We must learn to share the ball after the post Derek Raivio (Gonzaga) years. We have a lot of talented players but must play together. We also must improve defensively and on the boards.
"We had an up and down summer, playing well in the Portland summer leagues and playing in the title game against Kentwood in the Rumble on the River. We struggled with injuries the last half of the summer."
Of the Greater St. Helen's League Cranston told us, "the GSHL should be extremely tough in 03-04. This conference is notorious for 3-4 team races in the last 10 days of the conference. We have been in the title game 2 of the last 3 years and hope to contend again. The conference is always well balanced and this year should be no different."
"Skyview and Prairie will be very strong next year with each team returning a number of varsity starters and veterans. Both teams have skilled players and good size and are well coached."
"Battle Ground brings up some talented players from the JV ranks. They had a strong summer and should be very tough. Heritage is much improved and has maybe the most talented player in the league in Walter Walden."
Coach Cranston's state contenders included Bethel, Snohomish, Franklin and Mariner.
And as far as "sleeper" players (guys who may be coming in under the radar on recruiting screens) in the league? Jesse Norris, Landon Heidenreich (Skyview) and Brian Winters (Prairie).
To follow the Thunder all year long, click their web site at http://www.mvhsthunderhoops.com