Catholic Sentinel photo by Ken Niezgoda
Centennial's Max Campbell defends Central Catholic's Danny Brakebush.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ken Niezgoda
Centennial's Max Campbell defends Central Catholic's Danny Brakebush.
Central Catholic’s boys basketball team didn't look like a title contender when the season started. At least not on paper. No returning starters. New coach.

Yet, with four games left in the regular season, the Rams are leading the state power rankings and have put themselves in contention for their first state title since 1994.

A perennial basketball power, Central Catholic lost all starters from last season, including two all-state tournament players. New head coach Dan Munson believes he stepped into a great opportunity.

“These guys practiced all last year and sat behind six kids who are now playing college athletics,” Munson said of his returning varsity players. “These guys are hungry. They just bought in.”

The Rams pushed their way to the top of the Oregon School Activities Association power rankings by virtue of a strong schedule, playing nine games against teams currently in the top 10. At 16-4, the Rams were ranked number one ahead of three-time defending state champion Jesuit as of Feb. 10.

“None of us really played last year,” said Ram senior guard Lucas Hunter, a three-year varsity player. “We’ve all come up together. Everyone's working well together.”

Last season Central Catholic placed third in the 6A state tournament, losing to state champion Jesuit in the semi-finals. This season the Rams have split wins with Jesuit, 1-1, and hope for a re-match in the state tournament.

Munson came to the school from Summit High, where he was head coach and athletic director. The defensive-minded coach has got the Rams to buy into his philosophy.
 
“The better we play defense, it will lead to our offense. Our chemistry is really good. Our defense is picking up,” said Lucas. “Our coach does a good job of keeping us focused. He knows exactly how to handle us.”

Munson sees Lucas as a team leader and defensive catalyst. Inside, the Rams look to 6-7 Austin Dyer, who started as a freshman before an injury.

The junior gives size and experience. “He is one of the best big men in the state,” said Munson.

Three of the Rams’ final four opponents have winning records, giving the Rams a strong challenge entering the playoffs.

The Rams finish the season against Centennial Feb. 22. The first round of state playoffs begins Feb. 29.