Most likely to succeed: Stanwood
Stanwood is returning four starters from a Spartans' squad that came within one game of the 4A state tournament last season. Stanwood head coach Zach Ward thinks having so many returning players has already helped the Spartans, now in the Wesco 3A North League, out.
"Early on there's less teaching that has to take place. It's more tweaking," Ward said. "Guys already know what to do. There's a familiarity there. They understand what's expected by me."
After surprising some by tying for the regular-season North title, Ward said expectations are probably even higher this season.
"They have the opportunity to play in some big games," Ward said. "They've been there. Now they just need to get over the hump."
Most likely to surprise: Oak Harbor
It's not often that when a team loses its best player, it's still picked to potentially surprise. But, after losing leading scorer Michael Washington, Jr. -- who has gone on to play at Princeton -- the Wildcats still look to be pretty dangerous in the upcoming season.
"With Mike Washington, Jr. there was so much emphasis on him, I think a lot of other kids might have flown under the radar," Ward said. "There are kids that are good basketball players, but maybe didn't get the hype in years past. But they can definitely play."
One of those players is junior Drew Washington, Michael's younger brother.
Most likely to score 40: Cannen Roberson, Stanwood
Roberson, an all-area second-team selection who averaged 18 points a game last season as a junior, has been working hard in the offseason to improve his game, according to Ward. One point of emphasis: developing his outside game.
He also hit the weight room and put on about 15 pounds, helping the 6-foot-5 player become even more difficult to guard.
"He does a great job. He's really versatile," Ward said. "He presents a matchup problem because he can play the (wing) or the (forward). At 6-foot-5 he has the size to go inside in the post, but he also can shoot from the perimeter.
Most likely to get caught stealing: Josh Thayer, Stanwood
"He's our lock down defender," Ward says of the junior. "A kid that's just really bought into playing defense. There's often times when he wants to guard the other team's best player, regardless of size."
During the summer Stanwood went to California and played a few strong teams. Thayer jumped at the chance to defend quite a few high-quality opponents.
"He had a really nice summer for us," Ward said. "We went to California and he often times guarded the opponent's best player.
"And we saw some really good teams down there."
Most likely to succeed: Glacier Peak
The Grizzlies, who made it to the state regionals last year, have made it to the state tournament three straight seasons. Glacier Peak head coach Brian Hunter said this year's squad wants to continue that tradition.
"I think that that, at some point, the kids want to continue that," Hunter said. "They want to continue what's been built on the past and put their mark on it."
He said advancing in the postseason helps his players remain calmer in big games, while putting a little bit of pressure on them to get back.
"Yeah, there probably is, to a certain extent," Hunter said. "But it's probably the right kind of pressure."
Most likely to surprise: Shorewood
Shorewood and Glacier Peak are two strong favorites, according to Mountlake Terrace head coach Nalin Sood. However, he thinks the two teams will surprise in a different way.
"Glacier Peak and Shorewood are two teams that are very good basketball teams, and I think they could surprise other teams with how good they are," Sood said. "Not surprise by coming out of nowhere, but surprise other teams with how good they can be this year."
Hunter thinks Shorewood has a couple key pieces to make a run, including post Josh Hawkinson, a Washington State University commit.
"They've got a Pac-12 (Pacific-12 conference) center, and their guard, (Ben) Andrews, is a four-year varsity player and a three-year starter," Hunter said. "Those kind of things pay dividends when the kids are seniors."
Most likely to score 40: Zach Pederson, Glacier Peak
The senior center averaged a double-double during his junior season, averaging 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds per game. Hunter said he believed that Pederson led the league in scoring and rebounding last season.
"He's a nice piece to have back," Hunter said. "Honestly, Zach is a really unique player. He is one of the most efficient players I've ever coached. He shoots a tremendously high percentage. He takes good shots."
Pederson's uncanny ability inside to get the ball and put it back in the hoop is also a big part of what makes him so valuable.
"He's just a really good offensive rebounder," Hunter said. "He gets quite a few points on putbacks and it's hard to defend offensive rebounders. He has a knack for scoring inside."
Most likely to get caught stealing: Marquis Armstead, Mountlake Terrace
Last season, Armstead was a first-team all-Wesco 3A selection, thanks in part to his reputation as a strong defender.
"Some kids you have to really teach them to be physical, to have a fearless attitude. With Marquis I almost have to teach him to back off a little bit," said Sood. "He's fearless. He doesn't see any challenge on defense that he can't do."
Sood said that the senior "would almost get mad at me if I didn't assign him as a defender to the team's best player.
"Marquis wants that challenge. I'll be darned if there wasn't a 6-foot-10 guy in the league and Marquis would say, 'Let me go guard him,'" Sood said of the 6-foot-1 defender.
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