Baker boys basketball coach Jebron Jones has the Bulldogs practicing before dawn with a goal of playing after dusk three months from now.
And potentially with a state championship at stake.
With seven players, including five regular starters, returning from last year’s 19-8 squad, which advanced to the eight-team state tournament, Jones sees great potential when the Bulldogs gather for 5:30 a.m. practices.
“We return seven players — Diego Quintela, Paul Hobson, Hudson Spike, Grant Gambleton, Jaron Long, Jaxon Logsdon, Isaiah Jones,” Jebron Jones said. “We have high expectations this year as we have emphasized competing for everything. The young men are hungry.”
The returning players are joined by juniors Nate Jensen and Giacomo Rigueiro, senior Michael Gentry, and freshman Rasean Jones.
(Rasean and his older brother, Isaiah, a sophomore, are Jebron Jones’ sons.)
“I have many players who will play important roles this year,” Jebron Jones said. “All 11 players have a chance to impact the game in some capacity so it’s hard to say who is going to stand out. Isaiah Jones, Paul Hobson and Hudson Spike received first team all-league honors last year, and Jaron Long and Jaxon Logsdon received second team all-league honors.”
Jones said he hasn’t set a starting lineup yet.
“It changes almost on a daily basis which is good for competition purposes in practice,” Jones said.
“Any of those players along with other returners and newcomers have a chance to play significant minutes this year. I’m excited.”
Returning players scored all but one of Baker’s points in the two games at the state tournament last season.
Jones said he’s focusing on improving the Bulldogs’ defense this season.
Last year Baker was the highest scoring team in the Class 4A ranks, averaging 63.1 points per game.
But the Bulldogs gave up almost 53 points per contest. Greater Oregon League rival La Grande, which won two of the three games against Baker and claimed the league title, surrendered 44.9 points per game.
“We have placed a bigger emphasis on playing much better defense, rebounding and being more consistent on both ends of the floor,” Jones said, noting that just a few more defensive stops in some games could have turned losses into wins.
After routing Sisters 61-38 in a play-in game and dominating Gladstone 80-52 in a first-round playoff to advance to the state tournament, the Bulldogs lost 58-47 to Junction City and lost 67-60 to Philomath in the consolation bracket.
Baker will see a change in its league schedule this season, as Mac-Hi has dropped out of the GOL, replaced by former Class 5A school Pendleton.
The Bulldogs also have a challenging nonleague slate, including traveling to three tournaments, starting this weekend at Wilsonville.
Baker also will have a rematch with Junction City on Jan. 14 on a neutral court at The Dalles.
“I love our schedule, everything about it,” Jones said. “I love the fact we are playing good teams and on the road. It will give the players a chance to be uncomfortable playing in hostile environments, we need to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“Hopefully this schedule will help get to where we want to get — Forest Grove and the final eight.”
The 2023 Class 4A state tournament will take place in March at Forest Grove.
After playing three games this weekend at Wilsonville, then traveling to Homedale, Idaho, on Dec. 8, Baker will open its home schedule Friday, Dec. 9 against Estacada at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs, again playing three games in three days, will also play host to Molalla on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 12:30 p.m.