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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Skyview undaunted by talent at Les Schwab Invitational

Storm enters tournament with 6-1 record

By Andy Buhler, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: December 26, 2018, 6:00am

The year was 1997 and Matt Gruhler was a sophomore on Central Catholic’s varsity basketball team.

Led by team captain, a senior guard named Joey Harrington and a 6-foot-10 center and future Notre Dame standout Hans Rasmussen, the team was a part of the early years of what is now one of the country’s most esteemed holiday prep basketball tournaments, the Les Schwab Invitational.

Now 21 years later, Gruhler is in his seventh year as head coach at Skyview preparing his Storm for its first appearance in the invitation-only showcase, which starts on Wednesday at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Ore.

“Every opponent will have at least one D-I player,” Gruhler said. “We’re excited for the test.”

As the LSI has grown in the years since, attracting a laundry list of current and former NBA players, Gruhler and many of his players have watched year after year from the stands.

He specifically recalls seeing Prairie go 0-4 in 2009 and feeling daunted.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘man, you gotta be good to be in this LSI thing, I don’t know who would want to schedule that,'” Gruhler said. “We could play really well and go 0-4 in it.”

Now they are the first Clark County team to be invited since Columbia River in 2012, though Gruhler said it was not necessarily an event he’d long been seeking out. Instead, the invite fell in his lap after his team completed its second season in a Portland-based fall league that plays at Jefferson High School.

Approaching the 2017-18 season, in which Skyview made a program-first 4A state tournament, Gruhler recognized he had a talented crop of returners and sought to test them against a different field of teams than the ones they typically see during the season.

He called up a few old friends from Portland, and Skyview wound up in a league with Jefferson, Grant, Lake Oswego, Barlow, Columbia Christian and Jesuit — “teams constantly in the Les Schwab,” Gruhler said.

The Storm went 7-3 in that league this fall. WIAA rules bar coaches from coaching their team during fall league, but Gruhler was often present to watch his team, particularly junior forward Kyle Gruhler, his son.

That’s when he connected with Reggie Walker the director of operations for Prime Time Sports — an event management group that puts on events such as the LSI and Nike Hoop Summit.

Gruhler believes it was the Storm’s performance in its two falls with the Portland-based league that earned the invite. That, and Skyview’s point guard Alex Schumacher, The Columbian’s reigning all-region player of the year.

Schumacher, Kyle Gruhler and sophomore guard Squeeky Johnson all play on Portland-based AAU teams.

Gruhler, also, is believed to be one of two coaches in the field to have played in the tournament; the other being West Linn’s Tyler Toney, coincidentally the Storm’s first round matchup, who played for the Lions in 1997-98 (same year as Gruhler).

Skyview joins elite company in this year’s field from around the nation.

Perennial national powerhouse Sierra Canyon (Charsworth, Calif.) returns, this time with 6-foot-5 five-star guard Cassius Stanley along with Kenyon Martin Jr. and Scott Pippen Jr., both sons of NBA greats.

Top-3 recruit Vernon Carey Jr., a 6-foot-9 Duke commit, headlines University School (Southwest Ranches, Fla.).

Gonzaga Prep, who defeated Skyview in the state quarterfinals last March and went on to win the 4A state title, is the only other team from Washington in the field. The Bullpups are led by four-star forward Anton Watson, a Gonzaga commit.

The Storm, who are off to a 6-1 start with a lone loss to Jackson of Mill Creek, Wash. and wins over Columbia River and 3A power Timberline, are guaranteed four games — one per day. The Storm play West Linn at noon on Wednesday.

“It’s a cool event,” Gruhler said. “It’s always something I’ve thought it’d be really cool for our kids to get that competition and get your kids get some more eyeballs (from colleges).”

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Columbian Staff Writer