VANCOUVER — The Clark County basketball community has an abundance of images of Union’s Cameron Cranston during the senior’s stellar high school basketball career.
There have been game-winning shots, spectacular record-setting individual performances, an abundance of victories, and even a third-place finish at last year’s Class 4A state basketball tournament. However, none of the images that accompanied those feats, and others, may illustrate the type of person and teammate Cranston is better than the final moments of the Titans’ bi-district opening win over Olympia at Union High School on Feb. 9.
It wasn’t the first time Cranston was viewed in this manner, and it certainly hasn’t been the last. But, nonetheless, the abundantly likeable 6-foot-6 teenager was there with his heart on his sleeve, as always, enjoying what he loves the best, interacting with his teammates.
Cranston had just scored 23 points and he and the rest of Union’s starters had been sent to the bench for the final minutes of what would turn out to be a 72-48 victory. But, Cranston’s night wasn’t over. His contribution wasn’t over. There was still fun to be had. He spent the final moments of the game enthusiastically and unselfishly cheering on the Union reserves who had replaced him and his fellow starters on the court while celebrating with those teammates who had joined him on the bench.
“We’re a pretty unified team,’’ Cranston said of the Titans, who enter the 2017 4A state tournament this week at the Tacoma Dome as the No. 1 seed among the final 12 teams still alive. “We genuinely love each other. We’re brothers. We pride ourselves on the way we play together. It really correlates with our unity.’’
Even though Cranston could still play three more games at the state tournament, which takes place Wed.-Sat. (March 1-4), he has already established himself as Union’s all-time scoring leader with 1,436 points scored and counting. The talented, skillful left-hander averaged 19.7 points this season while shooting 54 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and 88 percent at the free throw line.
On Sunday, Cranston was named the Washington state Class 4A Player of the Year and he was also named the 4A Greater St. Helens League Most Valuable Player this season for the second consecutive year. But, when talking to those closest to him, it’s very easy to believe Cranston when he speaks about how his love for his teammates comes above all the individual glory.
“He has been extremely steady and has been the driving force of the team,’’ said Union coach Blake Conley. “The fact that he is not selfish and is all about the team permeates throughout the locker room. He could easily have been worried about his stats, his game, and his accolades, but he has done a great job of embracing his role as a leader and he has set the tone for what is hopefully another deep playoff run.
“Cameron has had one of the greatest seasons a Union Titan has (ever) had, and that is saying a lot with the great players who have come through the doors at Union,’’ Conley said.
Conley isn’t the only member of Union’s coaching staff who holds that perception of Cranston.
“He is a very selfless player and puts the team success over the his own accolades,’’ said Union assistant coach Todd Spike. “His teammates love to play with him. He has a great sense of humor, a competitive edge, and compassion for his teammates. He is a special player and person who has had a major impact on our success — his coaches and teammates are grateful for all he has given to the program.’’
Growing up with a ball in his hand
Cranston is the son of a coach. His dad Mike Cranston had a long, successful career as the head coach at Mountain View High School. During much of his dad’s coaching career, Cameron could be seen around Mike’s teams, always wearing basketball shoes and clothing and with a basketball in his hand and a smile on his face.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,’’ Cameron said of his life as a coach’s son. “Having my dad be such a big part of my basketball life, he’s helped me so much — coaching me from Day 1. I couldn’t ever give back to him for what he’s giving me.’’
Spike was around the Cranstons for many of those years at Mountain View.
“I have been fortunate to be a part of Cam’s basketball journey since he was a little buster crawling around the gym floor in diapers,’’ Spike said. “I have a unique connection with the Cranston family as his dad (Mike) was also my high school coach. We also coached together for over eight years at Mountain View, and being able to coach Cam the past four years at Union. I have seen him evolve from being a gym rat to a team leader and one of the best players in the state.’’
Spike said it was during those years that the foundation was laid for what type of player Cameron would eventually become.
“Cam was a big gym rat when he was younger and always around the game,’’ Spike said. “He was fortunate to be around some great players in his formative years at Mountain View — the likes of Derek and Nik Raivio, Austin and Taylor Dunn, Joseph Vance, and Harold McCallister. He would be the first to admit they were his role models growing up, fetching balls for them and they were influential in sparking his passion for the game. He has always had a ball in his hands via the AAU circuit and high school basketball season. There really has not been an offseason for him.’’
Gym rats — players that just can’t be kept out of the gymnasium — are a coach’s favorite type of player.
“Absolutely, Cameron grew up in the gym and that hasn’t changed,’’ Conley said. “He is the player he is because of the work he has put into basketball. He has been a great example to our younger players.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the chance to coach a one of a kind player like Cameron,’’ Conley added. “He is a true competitor and has the vision and basketball knowledge of a coach. It has been an honor to see him mature as a player, but more importantly, as a young man in his four years in the Titan basketball program.’’
Cranston said he knows of no other way.
“I’ve always just been a gym rat,’’ Cranston said. “I’ve always been in the gym. I have a love for the game. It’s in my blood. I’ve been doing this since I was a baby. It’s all I know — hooping in the gym, staying in the gym.’’
His diversity of skills
Because of the time he spent in the gym throughout his young life, Cameron quickly developed the ability to put the ball in the basket. But, his game has now evolved into much more than that according to his coaches.
“Cam has a high basketball IQ, can score in a multitude of ways and has grown into a solid defender and rebounder,’’ Conley said. “He is a great teammate and works relentlessly.’’
“I would say Cam’s biggest evolution as a player has been adding strength, leadership, and more versatility to his game,’’ Spike said. “His frosh and sophomore years, he was more known as just a shooter with range. He is more than that now. He is strong in the post, has a great mid-range game, and is still an outstanding 3-point shooter He is an inside-out player, which makes him very hard to guard.’’
Like Conley, Spike emphasized Cranston’s knowledge of the game as a strength.
“What makes Cam special as a player is his versatility, his feel for the game — basketball IQ, and always putting his team first,’’ Spike said. “He will basically rewrite the Union Record Board in terms of scoring after this year — but it is clear with Cam, the most important stats are in the win column.’’
In addition to becoming Union’s scoring leader, Cranston has also set school records for 3-point field goals made in a season, 3-point field goals made in a career, wins and state tournament games played in.
“It’s been great,’’ Cranston said. “I wouldn’t trade any of these memories for anything, especially getting to the Dome every year (for the state tourney). It’s been a heck of a ride.’’
Cranston has tried not to think about anything that will come at the end of the state tournament, with the exception of his goal to hoist a championship trophy.
“I’m sure it will be a pretty emotional day,’’ said Cranston, when asked about taking off a Union uniform for the very last time. “It means a lot. These guys are truly my brothers. I just love every second with them. Seeing everyone succeed on our team is a great feeling. I’ve just loved every second of it.’’
Union will get a bye in Wednesday’s elimination round of the tournament. The Titans will meet the winner of Kennedy Catholic and Glacier Peak on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in the quarterfinals.
“With just three games left, it would be great if we could go out there and win a state title but there are a lot of great teams at the state tournament,’’ Cranston said. “It’s just great to be at the Dome, to just soak it all in and enjoy the last part of my senior year playing basketball.’’
A pending collegiate career
Cranston told ClarkCountyToday.com that he hasn’t decided on which college he will attend after his graduation from Union. But, he is being recruited and has every intention of continuing his basketball career at the next level.
“No decision yet,’’ Cranston said. “I’ve been talking to some schools.’’
Cranston said he is attracted to a number of schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, a conference of NCAA Division II schools in the region.
“I believe Cameron is getting overlooked right now and will be a steal for some college,’’ Conley said. “He has gotten better every season and I don’t see an end to that trend. As long as he keeps working like he has, Cameron will be a great college basketball player.’’
“I think the sky is the limit for Cam,’’ Spike said. “What program wouldn’t want a 6-foot-6 lefty who can stretch the floor and make teammates around him better? Currently his is getting looks from some D-II and strong NAIA programs, but it is hard to say where he may end up. It will be interesting to see where his basketball journey is going to take him, but I can tell you wherever he goes, they are getting a very special player.’’