If you haven’t seen a McKay High School boys basketball game this season, you’re missing a show.
But don’t be deceived by first impressions.
The 11th-ranked Royal Scots (9-2, 3-0 Greater Valley Conference*) don’t strike fear in opponents during pregame warmups. They’re undersized and not exactly a brawny group.
“That’s the biggest compliment for our kids,” sixth-year head coach Dean Sanderson said. “People kind of do that and say, ‘Can these kids play?’”
The answer is an emphatic yes, with a playing style that is push the pedal to the metal from the opening tip to the final buzzer. The Royal Scots are always in fast-break, full-court pressure defense mode.
Among Class 6A schools, McKay leads the state in scoring at 89.9 points per game and is last in points allowed (82.1 ppg). It’s a risk-reward style.
Depth a key ingredient
The Royal Scots, who defeated Roseburg 72-56 on Thursday, are a collection of interchangeable parts. Virtually everyone on the roster is capable of grabbing a defensive rebound, leading the fast break, and finishing at the rim.
There’s no shot clock in high school basketball, but if there was it would not be a concern for McKay, which hoists shots quickly on most possessions, often from 3-point range.
“We don’t get tired because our whole team can play at the same level the whole game,” junior Khyler Beach said.
It’s a system that was recommended before last season by assistant coach Jack Martino and understandably, there were growing pains. McKay was 6-18 overall and 3-13 in league.
But with more experience in the system, along with improved play from a team that relies on its depth – 12 different players have started games – the Royal Scots are contenders this season in the GVC.
“We looked at it and said, ‘Are we gonna beat West Salem and Sprague and South Salem or whoever, playing them the same way they’re trying to play us?’ Probably not,” Sanderson said.
“So we can either throw our hands in the air and say we’re gonna get beat or we could try to look for a way, a little more creative, to figure out how we’re gonna compete with these guys. That’s what we’ve done here.”
A 99-98 victory Dec. 13 at West Salem, which is No. 4 in this week’s OSAA rankings, provided validation.
“That was really a big game,” said 5-6 senior Josiah Castillo, a 3-point shooting specialist. “That was like our statement game to let everyone know that we can play at this level.”
Shaton Daniels, a 5-foot-11 senior who can play above the rim, leads the team in scoring at 15 points per game followed by Castillo (14.0 ppg) and Beach (12.4 ppg).
After about two minutes into the first half of each game, Sanderson subs out the starting five. It’s a pattern he uses the entire first half, with situational substitutions in the second half.
McKay players stay fresh with the goal of wearing down opponents.
“Playing this system, after halftime, third or fourth quarter, (opponents) should be more gassed than we are,” Castillo said. “That’s an advantage for us.”
McKay has been a formidable basketball program through the years, but not recently. The 2009-10 squad, led by league player of the year Jordan Carter, placed sixth in the state tournament.
There were playoff appearances in 2013 and 2014, but the last two seasons McKay went 11-27 overall. The Royal Scots have embraced their underdog status.
“Our school’s always been the underdog,” said senior Noah Tavera, a three-sport athlete who embodies the Royal Scots’ gritty mentality.
“Everybody comes into games, ‘Oh, it’s McKay, we’re gonna win.’ But ever since we were freshmen, sophomores, we’ve just had that chip on our shoulders. We’re hungry.”
Unlike other schools in the GVC, McKay does not have players who participate in summer AAU basketball programs.
There’s also a facilities issue that contributes to an uphill climb in other sports as well. McKay is the only GVC school that does not have a turf football field, and it also lacks a wrestling room.
The wrestling team practices in the upstairs gym, which leaves half the gym on which for the freshman boys basketball team to practice.
In the main gym, the varsity and junior varsity boys basketball teams practice together and there is only one full court.
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Sanderson acknowledged there is much for McKay to overcome, from not having players on the AAU circuit, to being undersized, to a lack of gym space.
“What we’re doing right now is a testament to kids working extremely hard and using those things as a motivating factor instead of an excuse,” Sanderson said. “Nobody expects them to succeed except the people in our gym.”
And the players on the court.
“A lot of people say that McKay’s a school that doesn’t have a lot of money and stuff like that,” Daniels said. “But it just goes to show that we’re a tough school. We play with what we have.”
Reach Gary Horowitz at ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-399-6726, and follow him on Twitter @ghorowitz
*All records and statistics were added prior to McKay’s matchup against Roseburg