On a dreary January morning, longtime Lynden High boys basketball coach Brian Roper strolled into the school’s gym just before 7 a.m.
Anthony Canales, Roper’s senior leader, was there and had already made 200 shots on one of the hoops in the “The Jake” — the gymnasium named after legendary Lynden head coach Jake Maberry, who led the team to four state titles.
Canales’ dedication to the sport is what has him in the gym each morning 30 minutes to an hour before anyone else.
A 6-foot-4 guard, he has already won back-to-back 2A state championships and a pair of state tournament MVP awards entering his senior year, but he said he isn’t satisfied. In his mind, that’s what it takes to be successful in a program that has earned 12 state titles.
Canales said he wants to become the school’s all-time leading scorer — and it’s within reach – just a few hundred points. His goal is to break Christian Zamora’s all-time program scoring record of 1,620 points, set in 2019. Zamora, also a two-time state champion with the Lions, was a childhood friend of Canales.
Canales is leading the 13-3 Lions (10-0 Northwest Conference) to another stellar season, and he is averaging 22.5 points per game while making more than 60% of his shots.
“I just know there’s more to be accomplished for me,” Canales said. “There’s more work to be done.”
‘You could see the love for the game’
When Canales began playing basketball at age 4 at the Lynden YMCA, he didn’t immediately take to the sport.
“I was not very good. I didn’t really play actually,” Canales said. “I’d be the kid to run up and down the court and run into the padded walls.”
But he grew up in a family of athletes. His father was a six-sport athlete in high school, and his mother played softball, volleyball and basketball. By the time Canales was in third grade, his skills began to improve and his desire for the game grew, particularly by idolizing NBA stars such as the late Kobe Bryant.
Canales began playing club basketball and, in fifth grade, attending camps at Lynden High School with Roper.
“You could see the love for the game,” Roper said. “But what I didn’t know until he got to high school is the level of his work ethic.”
Coming off the bench as a freshman in 2020–21, Canales’ first varsity season was shortened by COVID. However, the shutdowns actually benefited him; he said he would exercise and tune his basketball skills with his dad daily.
Canales’ goal was to earn as many minutes as possible to try and put his stamp on an already legendary basketball program.
“That’s the kind of thing that I just didn’t know [about Canales],” Roper added, “and it’s the main thing that’s made him into the player he’s become and what will help him become the player he’s going to be.”
Immediate, sustained success
Canales stepped into a starting role as a sophomore alongside plenty of senior leadership. Despite his backseat role as one of the team’s leaders, he was regularly leading the charge in the scoring column.
Lynden went 22-2 in his sophomore season, defeating Pullman 51-34 in the 2A state championship game on March 5, 2022.
Lynden’s key to winning championships has always been about getting the whole team involved and playing staunch defense. Even as a young player, Canales fit that mold.
“You better be prepared to rebound and defend if you’re going to play for us, and Anthony has shown a desire to be a complete player, not just a scorer,” Roper said.
Receiving the No. 6 seed in the 2022–23 state tournament, Lynden was viewed as an underdog. As one of the team’s veterans, Canales had to be a leader in the box score and on the court. Lynden endured crushing defeats to rivals Sehome and Lynden Christian at the end of the regular season and during the district tournament. It dropped them in the state rankings.
Through those lows, Canales said he grew. It was the first time he had to truly focus on the mental side of his game.
“I was a young kid,” Canales said. “I still am, but freshman, sophomore year, if something didn’t go my way, it’d affect how I would play the game. Last year, I got a lot better at it.”
The Lions found their stride, reaching another 2A state championship in March 2023, and they defeated Mark Morris 61-43 for their second straight title. Canales scored 23 points and grabbed five rebounds in the win, earning another tournament MVP, and Lynden finished its season 24-4.
This season, Canales’ senior year, he is the definitive team leader. Roper said he has embraced the role, and Canales agreed.
“He’s still an emotional guy, and that’s part of his makeup; he’s a passionate guy,” Roper said. “But he’s got a good relationship with coaches and teammates, and I think that’s where leadership really starts.”
Canales is in contact with multiple schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference — the league Western Washington University plays in — about pursuing a collegiate career.
All-time leading scorer or not, Roper said Canales’ impact has stretched far beyond the basketball court.
“Anthony is a really good basketball player, and that’s well documented,” Roper said. “But I love the fact that he’s personable, he’ll spend time to talk to my granddaughter when she comes to practice, he’s awesome when we have little kids camp, and I think that’s the side of him that not everyone gets to see.”
Connor J. Benintendi is CDN’s sports editor; reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-922-3090 ext. 104.