CENTRAL POINT — Mason Vranes is having as much fun as anyone these days as the victories continue to pile up for the Crater boys basketball team.
He’s previously endured more bad times than good in his run with the Comets, at least in scoreboard terms, so that only makes the start to his senior season that much more enjoyable.
“It’s just been a slow progression,” says the 18-year-old Vranes. “I always knew that we’d reach this point eventually, it just took a little longer than I thought.”
If anyone knows about steady progression, it’s Vranes.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound shooting guard’s name popped up on the Crater roster as a freshman but his status was more sideline observer than anything. Since then, his development into one of the top players in the Midwestern League has been a testament to consistent hard work and dedication to the sport he loves.
“Mason’s progressively improved all three years he’s been part of what we’re doing here at Crater,” says third-year Comets head coach Chris Schmerbach. “The thing that he’s got going for him more than anything is there’s just no one that outworks that kid.”
“I’ve coached in college and this is my second go-round in high school,” adds Schmerbach, “and his work ethic is really impressive. He’s just really, really driven. He’s seeing the fruits of that on the basketball court now but where he’s really going to see it is out in life because he’s going to be very successful with that approach.”
Entering Tuesday’s game against Eagle Point, Vranes was averaging 14.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists. Those numbers expect to only grow after he drained five 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 19 points in a 99-55 romp that not only was a season-high in points, it may have been a school record.
Where Vranes has found his niche is on the perimeter for a Crater team that boasts an 11-1 overall and 1-1 MWL record heading into Friday’s home contest against North Eugene. Vranes is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range and 55 percent from inside the arc to complement the play of 6-6 senior standout Kiefer Edwards, who is averaging 22.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.
“You’ve got to have an outside presence or everyone just packs it in, especially against a zone,” says Schmerbach. “Mason’s one of the best shooters I’ve had.”
That high rate of efficiency didn’t just happen, mind you, Vranes has invested almost all of his free time into honing his skills on the basketball court.
“I’ve known for a while I’m not the most athletically gifted person,” says Vranes, “so anything I wanted I knew I had to work harder at than anyone else. That’s been my motivation, to try and overcome everyone’s expectations.”
That includes around two hours per day of putting himself through a skills program, plus another hour of lifting weights. Then there is the time spent online seeking out new drills, best nutrition practices and other ways to increase his strength and speed.
It’s all become a year-round venture for Vranes, who began to focus solely on basketball in eighth grade after also playing football and soccer. He and Edwards played on the same AAU team that ventured to places, among others, like Las Vegas, Anaheim and Portland to further his competitive repertoire in the summer.
“I logged a bunch of miles last year,” laughs Vranes. “I don’t know anyone who puts in more hours than I do, but I think it helps build character.”
It’s also helped build victories for a program that, barring a complete collapse, should secure its first winning season in three years given the start to the 2017-18 campaign. The Comets are also chasing their first conference title since 1990, as well as a first trip to the state playoffs since Crater lost in the first round of the 6A playoffs five years ago. It’s been nine years since the Comets won a state playoff game, finishing sixth at the 5A level in 2009.
“We’ve been building this program for a long time and we’ve got the team that can do it,” Vranes says of a potential breakout campaign. “In my school’s history I don’t know if we’ve ever had a team with our ability and skills and height. There’s a lot of mismatches on this team. It’s hard to have enough guys to guard all of us and that helps out a lot rather than just being a one-man team.”
Helping provide that balance has been sophomore point guard Jayden Vranes, Mason’s little brother, at 8.5 points and 5.3 assists per game and 6-7 freshman Nathan Bittle, who is averaging 6.8 points and 8.2 rebounds. With 6-1 senior Cade Weaver (6.5 points, 3.0 rebounds), 6-6 senior Christophe Stollings (4.5 points, 3.8 rebounds) and 6-0 junior Nate Horton (3.5 points, 1.6 assists), the Comets are a challenge for anyone to counter.
“No doubt we have the pieces that we haven’t had here for quite a while now,” says Schmerbach. “The thing is getting them to realize that if they play together — one night it may be Kiefer or Mason or Jay or Bittle — it’s kind of a great chance to make it a really fun season.”
That said, the Midwestern League is rife with potential pitfalls this season, as the Comets quickly learned in a league-opening loss at Springfield. Thurston, Churchill, Crater, Springfield and Marist all rank in the top 10 of the Class 5A state power rankings.
“I think the most important thing is we’ve got to not get caught up in it all,” says Vranes, who scored a career-high 30 points against Scappoose two weeks ago. “When you start 10-0 you get lackadaisical, thinking you can do anything. It was kind of a good wake-up call (losing to Springfield), for sure. This league’s anybody’s to take, anything can happen.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry