Bill Long 3/12/05
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Thoughts on the Oregon 4A Boys Basketball Championship
By halftime, then, it looked like the game was "iced" by Lake Oswego. Love was having his typical outstanding game (12 points and 12 rebounds by halftime), the Lakers were playing a suffocating defense, and Jesuit looked dazed and disorganized on the offensive end.
But gradually it became clear, as the game progressed, that Lake Oswego, except for Love, was really only an average, or probably slightly below average, high school team and that Jesuit was a very good and disciplined team. Its defense became tenacious, forcing many Lake Oswego turnovers. Jesuit shooters, especially Jordan Mast and Josh Tarver, began to find their range from long distance, and it just seemed that by the beginning of the fourth quarter Lake Oswego, except for Love, was running out of gas. They no longer hugged the Jesuit shooters as closely as previously; they were not as sharp in handling the ball; they seemed more disoriented and lackadaisical in their offense. Passes weren't crisp and plays weren't executed well. When Seth Tarver fouled out early in the fourth quarter it seemed like the writing was on the wall for Jesuit. But a gritty performance by Josh Tarver, Jones and Mast, managed to erode the Lakers' lead.
But I want to spend the rest of this essay on the basketball skills of Kevin Love. It was impossible to think of him as a sophomore when you saw him play. He has such an imposing presence inside (he must weigh about 250 pounds) and knows so well how to handle his body and control the ball, that no one was able to stop him. He made defenders who were 6'5" or 6'4" look like middle school students next to him. Often two or three Jesuit defenders would be hanging on him, trying to keep him from going up with the ball. His 24 points and 23 rebounds (or was it the reverse?) shows his dominance.
It might be helpful to list some of his skills in a more systematic way. First, he knows how to get position, both offensively and defensively. He knows how to work himself into the paint when he can, and he is able to put the ball up quickly when it is fed to him. Second, he has a great feel for the ball. He knows how to handle it, pass it, tip it, dribble it and anticipate where it will be at any moment. He has an uncanny sense of where his teammates are, and he possesses an almost unerring ability to get the ball directly to them when he is double or triple-teamed. He had a few beautiful passes tonight on a give and go. His ball-handling skills actually reminded me of Arvydas Sabonis of the Blazers near the end of his career. Sabonis handled the ball as if it was baseball, dishing it skillfully to others, shooting occasionally himself and causing havoc for the other team because of his presence and skill without the ball.
The only other high school player I have seen who could remotely do what Kevin Love could do in occupying the lane was Fairfax (LA) HS's Craig Smith. Craig is now with Boston College and is one of the reasons why BC has been ranked in the top 10 this year. Craig is shorter than Kevin but was heavier, even in HS, and was able to clear out the lane for himself at will. Kevin Love has two years to mature and to "fill out" further, if that is even the right term, and he will, in my mind be as dominating in the paint as Craig Smith ever was in high school.
But his ability to handle the ball and see the court exceeds what I have ever seen in a high school player. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that he probably could start at post for almost any D-1 program now. If he keeps healthy (and he had a knee operation that kept him out of the first several games of the season this year), he will no doubt be one of the most sought-after players at the college level in years, if he decides to go the college route.
Josh Tarver already has accepted a D-1 offer (Oregon State) for next year. Oregon State's program has improved considerably in the last year or so, and Tarver will no doubt contribute to it well. His outside shot and smooth move to the hoop will make him a double threat at the next level. But I think it was evident to all that even this D-1 recruit was far outclassed in basketball skills by the sophomore from Lake Oswego.
So, what does next year hold for Boys 4A basketball in Oregon? I think that South Medford, without a doubt, has to be the odds on favorite to win the title. They seem to get closer and closer, but find themselves knocked out by a faster Portland team each year. Next year they will return two or three guys 6'7" or taller, as well as a freshman point guard who ended his season with some double digit games against McNary and Jefferson. Lake Oswego (i.e., Kevin Love) should be back, though the roster does not show anyone other than Love taller than 6'2" who will be returning. And, Jesuit and Jefferson and Benson are perennial threats. However, since the games are in Mac Court in Eugene, the attendance, which already had been slipping in the 1990s, will continue to decline, especially as they have gone to an eight-team tournament. It is too bad. As the college and even pro scouts pour into Oregon in the next few years, it would be nice if the people of Oregon would likewise show up for these tournament games. But, I guess you can't have everything....
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long