Veteran Colts expecting more.
The invitation that Thurston received to play in last year's Les Schwab Invitational was a sign that the Colts were considered one of Oregon's top prep boys basketball teams.
The 16-team tournament invites only about a dozen of the state's top teams to compete in a four-day event with a few of the nation's top programs. The Colts made the trip to Portland last December, but they fell one game short of a return trip north for the Class 4A tournament in March.
Thurston has been invited back to the LSI next week, which is again a sign that big things are expected out of the Colts by tournament organizers.
This year, the team shares those feelings.
"The best thing this year is that the players' expectations are high," Thurston's fourth-year coach, Doug Piquette, said. "That is one thing that we have not always had, but this year we have high expectations, but at the same time we know we can't get ahead of ourselves."
Thurston appeared to be headed back to the state tournament for the first time since 1996 last year after starting 10-1 in league play. The Colts then lost four of their last five games in the regular season to finish tied for second place in the Midwestern League and lost to Westview in the third round of the sub-tournament.
Six players return off last year's roster, including 6-foot-6 senior post Shea Washington, who has signed to play at Montana State. Washington led the league in scoring last season at 17.3 points per game and was a first-team all-league selection for the second straight year.
"Shea has developed around the perimeter, and he runs the floor better," Piquette said. "The best thing is that we have more balance and the load is not on him. He is such a good passer and has a complete game, so I am not sure if he will have to score as much as he had in the past."
Washington is averaging 8.7 points per game in three games this season for the Colts, who are 2-1 and ranked No. 10 in the coaches' poll. They are considered the top contender to challenge Churchill in the league.
Jay Mayernik, a 6-5 junior, leads the team with 15.7 points per game, while Ryan Keeling, a 6-5 sophomore, averages 12.7 points per game.
"Jay and Ryan are both so versatile, they can play point guard and post," Piquette said. "Keeling is very explosive and athletic, and has improved as a shooter."
Thurston wants to run the ball behind point guard Steve Farley, but with three posts who are 6-5 or taller, the Colts are more than capable of scoring in their half-court offense.
Farley was an honorable mention all-league player last season and is joined in the backcourt by Eric Orton, a 6-3 senior. Off the bench, senior Kenny Olsen is one of the team's top shooters, and Piquette likes sophomore Jamal Sarkez for defense.
Seniors Ryan Green and Luke Loder can play forward or guard, and Cole Smith and Josh Coe are reserves in the frontcourt.
With so much experience off last year's playoff team, Piquette thinks this year's team has a head start.
"We haven't had to put anything new in, and this is the first year that I can say that," he said. "It is sort of business as usual. Our fundamentals are not where they need to be, but we will work on that."
Thurston opened the season with victories over Reynolds and Roseburg, and the Colts gave up an average of 42.5 points in those two games.
"Our defense is what I am most impressed with so far," Piquette said. "We believe if we are to get things done, it will be because of defense. We have been stingy in the middle quarters, but we have a lot of room for improvement."
The Colts suffered their first loss of the season Saturday, when ninth-ranked Redmond beat them 70-66, and the schedule doesn't get much easier before Christmas.
Thurston opens league play Saturday against the top-ranked Lancers, then heads to Portland for the Les Schwab Invitational next week.
Thurston opens against third-ranked South Salem and is in the same side of the bracket as Oak Hill Academy of Virginia, which is ranked second in the nation by USA Today.
That trip to Portland is guaranteed, but this year Thurston hopes to get back to the Memorial Coliseum again in March.
Thurston point guard Steven Farley, who was honorable mention all-league last season, will have three big men to whom he can pass the ball inside. The Colts will face a difficult test next week when the team travels to the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland. Thurston's biggest weapon might be Shea Washington, who has been named first-team all-league two seasons in a row.