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COOS BAY — Trevor Hoppe is optimistic.

League play starts Wednesday for Hoppe's Southwestern Oregon Community Collegeg men's basketball team and the Lakers have three of their first four NWAC South Region games away from Prosper Hall. 

But Hoppe feels good about his team heading into the league opener at Mount Hood. 

“We’re getting that conditioning back,” he said late last week. “We’re shaking that Christmas break off, which is fine. We have a few days to do that.”

It’s been a tough early stretch for the Lakers, though not necessarily in terms of results.

SWOCC has already played some of the top teams in NWAC, with losses to South Puget Sound, Green River and Spokane, all of which are near the top of their respective regions. SWOCC fell to the South Puget Sound, which boasts a record of 11-2, by just a single point in early December.

So by playing a tough schedule, Hoppe hopes his young team quickly grows out of its freshman status.

“All that can do is help us get ready for the tough Southern Region,” Hoppe said. “We were just talking about that with our team (Friday). We think it’s pretty wide open, too. I think there’s just a lot of really good teams in the South this year. Every night’s gonna be a battle. We think that our preseason should help us be ready for that.

“It’s gotta help us get better.”

Lane, Clackamas and Clark are all comfortably over .500 in the South Region, and Linn-Benton, Chemeketa and Umpqua are all hovering right around the even mark.

That leaves SWOCC, sitting at 5-7, with Mount Hood and Portland in a distant bottom in the standings.

SWOCC has been led by its point guard and only returning starter Moses Miller, who’s averaging 14.8 points per game and is second in the entire NWAC with 7.8 assists per game.

He’s the center of the offense, given more and more responsibility by Hoppe.

But, as happens with teams, there are others.

Keenan Reynolds came to Hoppe’s mind, as did Carson Washburn. Reynolds, who hails from Billings, Montana, is averaging 2.8 assists per game, putting him in the top 50 in the league, while netting 12.3 points per game and is second-best on the team with 5.0 rebounds a game.

“He’s a dynamic wing-type player,” Hoppe said. “He can get to the basket. He can rebound really well for a guard.”

Washburn, one of three returners along with Miller and Connor Sailors, has taken a step forward in his sophomore season.

He is one of four Lakers in double figure scoring (10.8) and does lots of the little things that don’t make it into box scores.

“Carson’s been doing a good job guarding bigger players and handling himself in the post,” Hoppe said. “He definitely has improved, and he’s improved defensively. But also in scoring-wise too.”

Entering the season, SWOCC had the NWAC Tournament on its mind, and there isn’t any reason to think after the first 12 games that it’s out of reach.

“Our first three of our first four games are on the road,” Hoppe said. “So it’s all about, ‘Hey, can we steal one or two of these along the way?’ But Mt. Hood, we think we match up pretty good with them, so we’ll see what happens.”

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Sports Reporter