Taking A Look At The Top Boys Basketball Teams In Oregon
Friday, January 09, 2015
Never mind the 5-4 record, the West Linn Lions are still the team to beat. All four losses have been to formidable out-of-state programs, and reaching the LSI finals put them a notch above their Oregon competition.
A year ago at this point, the Lions were also 5-4, with three losses in big time tournaments plus a home court loss to Jefferson. No one came within eight points of them the rest of the season, and they cruised through the state tournament.
So they may be perfectly on track, and this year, they beat Jefferson. Are they as good as last year? Perhaps not quite. They graduated their third- through seventh-leading scorers, and their replacements aren’t quite to the same level yet.
Interestingly, those graduation losses included four-year starter Ryan Shearmire and three-year starter Hayden Coppedge, whose places are being taken by their younger brothers, Colin Shearmire and Cody Coppedge. One could leave the planet for a few years, return to West Linn and feel like nothing ever changes.
Payton Pritchard and Anthony Mathis may be the best guard combination in Oregon history. They make their teammates better, and they find ways to win ball games. I pick West Linn No.1. Central Catholic is a close second. The Rams’ LSI tournament performance—in which they held their own against three national powerhouses to finish fourth—may have been just as impressive as West Linn’s.
Central Catholic may be more athletic than West Linn while similar in depth, experience and coaching. But I turn to their 58-57 loss to Monteverde Academy in the LSI for a limitation. The fact that they lost to the nation’s No. 1 team in the last second may seem to say enough of their worthiness, but the game was … well … weird.
Monteverde completely dominated play in the first quarter, then seemed to stop paying attention. The Rams were often thrown off rhythm yet somehow kept fighting back. Much of that comeback was due to Deante Strickland’s determined one-man plays and some threes by reserve Ben College, but they didn’t hold together as a team the way West Linn did understress.
Jefferson certainly could contend for the 6A championship. The Democrats stayed with West Linn for three and a half quarters in the LSI and beat Jesuit. By adding 6-10 shot-blocker Isaiah Robinson as a senior transfer, Jefferson can take away an opponent’s inside game. South Salem learned that the hard way, seeing nine shots swatted in an LSI opening round overtime loss.
Robinson averaged six blocks per game in the tournament. Opponents shot only 37 percent from the field against them. We haven’t seen an Oregon shot-blocker with this kind of impact since … actually just last year, when Greyson Smallwood blocked 19 for Jefferson off the bench in the LSI (before disappearing for the rest of the season). With the security of the big eraser at their backs, one might think the Democrats would crank up their defensive pressure to new heights, but no, they had just five steals per game, which is low for a Jefferson team. Jefferson is led by tiny Kadeem Strickland, shooting freely in his fourth year running the offense. He led the tournament in three-point attempts (36) by a wide margin, making just22 percent. Still, he does a lot of things right.
Rebounding is a big plus, particularly on the offensive end. Robinson and 6-4 seniors Gabe Garrett and Quintus Hall seem to put back every errant shot.
Lakeridge, South Salem, Lake Oswego, Oregon City and Reynolds are top 10 teams, though it is difficult to imagine any one of them winning it all.
Some teams that didn’t make it to the LSI are off to strong starts, including David Douglas, North Medford, Southridge, Newberg and Tualatin. Newberg, under new coach Mark Brown, is a big surprise at 8-1. I haven’t seen any of these teams play this season, but I’m guessing that a couple might make the eight-team 6A state tournament, to be held this year in the Chiles Center.
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