Jefferson is clearly the team to beat in Oregon boys high school basketball.
The picture has been getting clearer since last spring, when the Democrats finished strong and may have been the second best team in the 6A tournament. At least, they were the only team to give the champion West Linn Lions a serious challenge.
There were no seniors on that Jefferson team. And this fall they added the one thing they had lacked, a quality big man, by getting Kamaka Hepa, a 6-9 transfer from Alaska, where he was the state’s player of the year as a freshman and sophomore.
But even without him (Hepa injured his ankle in the first game), Jefferson is fearsome. Another year of experience and growth for an entire roster will do that. In the Les Schwab Invitational tournament, the Demos lost only to national powerhouse Gonzaga of Washington, D.C. They beat Churchill 63-61, Grant 59-48 and Clackamas 80-54, that latter a shockingly decisive win over a team that has just beaten West Linn the night before.
Riding high on the crest of four straight state championships and then collecting four transfer stars in the off-season, West Linn would seem to be the state’s most qualified team on paper. But they aren’t there yet. They edged an ordinary Jesuit team 91-90 in the opener, got bombed by Garfield of Seattle in Game 2 and then split a couple of nail-bitters with Clackamas and Grant. The Lions can do it all in stretches, but perhaps they’re enduring the inevitable adjustment period as individual stars learn to play as a team in a new program.
Despite all their better known transfers, their most valuable player may be Braden Olsen, finally getting to start after backing up Payton Pritchard for years.
I’m thinking the Lions will be much stronger by tournament time. Their also adjusting to a new coach. But should also be stronger with Hepa back in the lineup.