Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball coach John Blasco has an open-door policy for alumni.
On any given weeknight at the Thunderdome, sophomores and juniors will be running the same drills as players several years removed from the program. Alumni like Chase Saviers, the Falcons’ second all-time leading scorer now at Southwestern Oregon Community College, serve as inspiration, and in some cases, mentors, to current players.
“He’s what made me have a better shooting ability,” junior Bryson Echiverri said Wednesday at practice. “Me and him getting on The Gun (basketball shooting machine) every night in the summer. I love how he takes the ball to the rack. I just saw his game and wanted to improve.”
The junior watched Saviers once score 40 points against Juneau-Douglas High School, and ever since that February 2017 night, he’s dreamed of surpassing Saviers’ single-game scoring mark. After the speedy playmaker scored 30 points in a 67-59 win against Sitka last weekend, that day may be coming sooner rather than later.
“He’s a competitior so he finds ways to score, he’s really good at creating,” Blasco said. “I knew he was capable of it, I didn’t think it would be that early in the season. I’m happy he got there that quick — we needed him to to get those two wins.”
With just two returning seniors in Puna Toutaiolepo and Hansel Hinckle, Echiverri and the rest of the junior class make up the heart of this year’s Falcons, who head on their second roadtrip this week. Brady Carandang is a knock-down 3-point shooter while Kamron Falls (6 feet, 1 inch), Braden Jenkins (6-3) and Petersburg transplant Stone Mason (6-4) are all relatively untested at the varsity level.
“There’s a lot of nice pieces,” Blasco said. “We just haven’t all played together enough for me to really know what our true strengths are. We know Puna’s tough; Bryson had a real nice weekend in Sitka; there’s some guys that worked really hard this offseason. But I haven’t gotten to a point where I know exactly how to blend them all together in one system.”
Falls is one of the players that put in offseason work, expecting his number to called much more this season.
“It’s a lot different than last year,” Falls said. “I feel like I actually have to contribute more. Everyone has to contribute more. We’re a young group, so everyone has to step up.”
Thunder Mountain has not won the Region V Championship in four years. After going 5-3 in the region last season, the Falcons dropped back-to-back Region V Tournament games by just two points. They lost to Ketchikan 49-47 and JDHS 47-45.
“We have a lot to prove this season, especially from the heartbreaking loss last year in regions,” Carandang said. “We have to come out and prove ourselves again this year.”
Guards Jonathan Stephens (senior), Bernard Yadao (senior), Oliver Mendoza (sophomore) and forwards Andrew Dilley (senior), Connor Guizio (senior), Meki Toutaiolepo (sophomore) round out the varsity squad.
The Falcons will be playing their first-ever out-of-state tournament to continue the season. Thunder Mountain is one of 16 teams playing in the Franklin High School Tournament of Champions in Seattle. The tournament will likely contain the strongest competition of the season, with three schools currently ranked in the top-10 in their respective states. Thunder Mountain plays against Tacoma, Washington’s Stanwood High School on Wednesday. Learn more and tune into the tournament at rainieravenueradio.world/franklin-tournament.
2018-19 season schedule
(Home games in bold)
Dec. 26-29 Franklin High School Tournament of Champions (Seattle)
Jan. 2 at West Valley
Jan. 3-5 Mt. McKinley Bank Holiday Classic (Fairbanks)
Jan. 11-12 Colony*
Jan. 16 at Wasilla
Jan. 17 at Bartlett
Jan. 18-19 at Barrow
Jan. 25-26 at JDHS, 8 p.m.
Feb. 1-2 Service*, 8 p.m.
Feb. 7 East Anchorage*, 7 p.m.
Feb. 8-9 Ketchikan*, 8 p.m.
Feb. 15-16 JDHS*, 8 p.m.
Feb. 22-23 at Ketchikan
March 5-9 Region V 4A Tournament (Sitka)
*All home games will be played at the TMHS main gym.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.