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January 14, 2003 Columns No Comments


Plenty of D-1 Hoopsters in Portland

by Jed Tai

It hasn’t been an easy year so far for the famed basketball team from Jefferson High School in Portland.

After a tough loss to rival Roosevelt High School on Friday night, the Democrats dropped to a disappointing 3-4 mark, and left head coach Marshall Haskins looking for answers.

It’s something different to deal with for Haskins and the Demos, who are used to success. After taking over the program five years ago, Haskins has quickly turned Jefferson into the state’s top high school program. Underneath his leadership, Jefferson has cranked out teams not only filled with future collegiate players, but ones that will challenge for the state championship each and every year. His 1999-2000 team compiled a perfect 28-0 record, won the Oregon state title, and was ranked as high as No. 4 nationally by USA Today. That team – which featured future Division I talents such as Aaron Miles (Kansas), Michael Lee (Kansas), Jon Tinnon (Idaho), Antone Jarrell (Portland State), Brandon Lincoln (Oregon), and Brandon Brooks (USC) – is considered by some to be the best in state history.

While being a powerhouse in the state of Oregon is fine and dandy – Jefferson was voted pre-season #1 for this season, by both the coaches and the media – Haskins also wants the school to be recognized nationally. To that end, he has started to schedule aggressively for his team, taking on teams outside the state with national reputations. Jefferson has even flown outside of the state for numerous top events. Unfortunately, it’s been the Demos and not the opponents who have taken the lumps so far.

Last year, the Demos lost to Oak Hill Academy in the Les Schwab Invitational, 71-65, dropped a road contest to Garfield (WA), 76-71, and couldn’t match up with Litchfield (MN) in the Gatorade Timberwolves Shootout in a 65-48 loss. This year, the drought has continued with a season-opening 77-61 loss to Kickapoo (MO) in the KMOX Shootout in St. Louis, and a 71-65 loss to Houston Westbury Christian in the LSI.

Add in losses this year to in-state teams such as Redmond and Roosevelt, and you had a team desperate for any kind of victory, much less one on a national scale.

So, with powerhouse Mt. Zion Christian Academy from North Carolina in town for the final game of the inaugural Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Invitational on Saturday night, it didn’t look like it would be a breakthrough game for Haskins and his team. The Warriors from Mt. Zion – who have the likes of Tracy McGrady and Amare Stoudamire amongst its alumni – were not only nationally ranked, but featured six players 6’9″ or taller, including Charlotte signee and native Australian Martin Iti at 7-0. No fewer than seven players on the roster are considered Division I material.

Compare this to Jefferson, whose tallest player measures 6’8″, average height on the roster is about 6’3″, and has only one D-I signee; it reads like a total mismatch. But while this year’s edition of the Democrats may lack sheer sure-fire Division I talent in terms of height or numbers, they certainly don’t lack players that can contribute. Haskins has a roster that goes as many as ten deep on occasion, with players easily interchangeable. Led by Missouri signee shooting guard Thomas Gardner – arguably the top prep player in the state – the Demos are a quick, hustling group that can put points on the board in a hurry while applying pressure defense to offset their general lack of height.

But Gardner is no doubt the team’s star and key offensive player. As Gardner goes, the Demos go. So, when Gardner hit his first three three-pointers against Mt. Zion in the game, the team found itself with an early 15-11 lead, and only trailed Mt. Zion, 23-21 after the first quarter. However, as Gardner cooled off so did the Demos. As missed shots and turnovers mounted for Jefferson, Mt. Zion took advantage, scoring on numerous fast breaks. The Warriors outscored the Demos 21-8 in the second quarter, and took a 44-29 lead into halftime.

Clearly Jefferson needed to make some adjustments for the second half and they did. Coming out of the locker room with renewed energy and focus, the Demos came ready to play while Mt. Zion was flat. By applying full court pressure and crashing the offensive glass, the Demos forced turnovers and got to the line for second chances. Haskins went deep to his bench to find answers, where he would find sophomore point guard Mac Hopson, who had not played at all in the first half. The second of two three-pointers in the third quarter by Hopson at the 2:10 mark would give the team a 50-48 lead. By the end of the period, Jefferson had scored 18 unanswered points, and held a 53-48 advantage by outscoring Mt. Zion 24-4 in the quarter during their incredible comeback.

Finally in the fourth, Mt. Zion would finally wake up. A basket by junior forward Richard Dorsey with 3:14 remaining brought the Warriors to within two, 58-57. However, when clutch play is required, the Demos turned to Thomas Gardner, and he delivered. Gardner came right back and scored on a drive. After a lost Warriors possession, Gardner quickly struck with a deep three for a 63-57 advantage. After Mt. Zion responded with a three of their own, Gardner came back on the break to pull up for another three to bring the lead back to six, 66-60. The Warriors would come no closer than five the rest of the way as Jefferson hit their free throws down the stretch to seal the win, 73-66.

“Outside winning a state championship, this is as big a win as I’ve had at Jefferson,” coach Marshall Haskins told Dan Mooney of The Oregonian. “We never stopped fighting in the second half.”

Gardner led the way for Jefferson with 28 points, shooting 8-for-14 from three-point range, while Ray Peterson scored 13 and grabbed seven rebounds. Mac Hopson chipped in with 11 points off the bench. Albert Webber scored 17 for Mt. Zion while sinking five treys, while Richard Dorsey scored 15 and Tasheed Carr scored 11. Martin Iti finished with 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting.

With the win, Jefferson returns to local action in the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) with renewed focus. As for Mt. Zion, the Warriors didn’t leave Portland empty – on Friday night they defeated Portland (OR) Grant, 81-53.

Some of the future Division I standouts that appeared in the Jefferson/Mt. Zion game include:

Tasheed Carr, Mt. Zion (junior)
2-5 fg, 0-1 3pt, 7-8 ft, 11 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast

At 6’5″ and well-built, Carr has more the size of a swingman, but he capably ran the point for the Warriors. He never settled for the jump shot, but rather looked to drive to the hole to create something. He was fantastic on the break as well as in the halfcourt setting, at finding the open man with crisp, clean passes. While he didn’t take many, you did get the feeling that his outside shot may need some work.

Richard Dorsey, Mt. Zion (junior)
6-7 fg, 3-8 ft, 15 pts, 7 reb, 3 ast

Dorsey initially came off the bench, but ended up playing most of the game for the Warriors. At 6’9″ and with a powerful frame, Dorsey was extremely active in the paint, ran the floor very well, and finished on the break – including a powerful roundhouse jam. He drew plenty of fouls underneath, but had trouble converting at the free throw line. Simply a raw athlete, Dorsey hustled hard and made plays on offense and on defense.

Thomas Gardner, Jefferson (signed with Missouri)
10-25 fg, 8-14 3pt, 0-4 ft, 28 pts, 4 reb

After hitting his first three treys, Gardner fired away at will in the first half, even when the shots started drying up as Mt. Zion adjusted to covering him further behind the arc. To his credit, he became more selective in the second half and hit shots when they mattered most. As always, his emotional leadership was critical to how the team performed in its comeback. Gardner didn’t share the ball as much as we’ve seen him do before and settled for way too many threes, but would you want to drive in against the trees of Mt. Zion?

Mac Hopson, Jefferson (sophomore)
2-3 fg, 2-3 3pt, 5-6 ft, 11 pts

Little Mac – even at 5-9 Hopson looks like he might still be in sixth grade – didn’t play at all in the first half, but arguably had the biggest impact of any of the Jefferson players outside of Gardner in the game. A clever ball-handler who isn’t afraid whatsoever of driving into the lane or firing up outside shots, Hopson played with great confidence for someone of his small stature. If he is able to grow physically in height and size, he has potential as a future Division I player.

Martin Iti, Mt. Zion (signed with Charlotte)
5-5 fg, 10 pts, 7 reb, 2 blk

According to pre-game scouting reports, Iti was known as someone who “loves to dunk the ball”. After his performance against Jefferson, that certainly isn’t in question. Out of his five field goals, four were dunks. He probably would have had more if his teammates would have found him open more underneath. Iti ran the floor like a deer, showed off a nice vertical, and intimidated with his size and shot-blocking ability underneath.

Mohamed Tangura, Mt. Zion (junior)
2-3 fg, 4 pts, 5 reb

A 6’9″ power forward/center, Tangura is considered by some as one of the top players in the Class of 2004. Unfortunately for us, due to spotty playing time and him not getting many touches on offense, we didn’t get to see if this reputation was deserved. But what we did see was a raw athlete who ran the floor well, was tough on the boards and on D, and elevated nicely on short jumpers, finishing with a soft touch.

Albert Webber, Mt. Zion (junior)
6-14 fg, 5-12 3pt, 17 pts

One word – shooter. If you gave Webber a few inches of space – especially on the baseline – he would drain the trey. His range seemed to extend all the way out past the NBA three-point line on some shots. He definitely seemed to be more than just a standstill shooter, as he was capable of putting the ball a little on the floor to create some room. He was also good at moving without the ball to find an open shot. Unfortunately, Webber didn’t grab a single rebound or do much else than shoot.

     

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