by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Former Southridge point guard AJ Monterossi put on a show at the 6A OACA All-Star series at Sprague High School, slicing apart the South with sleek drives and pull-up jumpers on Saturday.

A.J. Monterossi tried all the other sports.

Soccer was too boring.

Football was too rough.

Baseball was too tedious.

From a young age, only one activity enthralled Monterossi enough to keep playing it day after day until he turned into a skillful, deft point guard capable of Metro distinction and college scholarship offers.

“Nothing felt like basketball,” said Monterossi with a smile. “It’s been my passion. I love the competitiveness. I’ve always had a drive to win, and to do it with people that you love — it’s just a good feeling to accomplish those goals with them.”

The Southridge playmaker’s enthusiasm for hoops was on full presentation at the OACA’s 6A North vs. State All-Star series on Saturday at Sprague High School. Steering a North squad stocked with agile bigs, shooters and athletes on the wings, Monterossi had a field day, stockpiling points and dimes in an 114-82 rout of the South.

“It was fun to end off like that,” said Monterossi. “I love playing with all these guys. We were just playing free today. We just wanted to have fun in our last high school game, so I’m happy.”

Running the pick-and-roll at every opportunity and darting into the lane with those noted quicks that many a Metro guard couldn’t match, Monterossi munched on the South’s guards with his mercurial change-of-direction abilities and sleek handle.

If Monterossi didn’t use a ball screen to free himself for a daring drive to the rim or pull-up hoist from mid-range, the Skyhawk scanned the floor for open shooters who, as evidenced by the final tally, sank their share of threes from the land of plenty.

“That’s the exact dream,” said Monterossi with a smile. “We played with tempo and picked our spots. When everyone’s hitting, it’s contagious. We love it.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Monterossi will continue his playing career at Corban University where hell play with two former Southridge High School teammates.

Hunger for the game

Monterossi will play for Corban University in Salem, where he’ll join two former Skyhawk teammates Caleb Herzberg and Caleb Dozier on the Warrior roster. Naturally, the friendships with Herzberg and Dozier had influence on Monterossi’s decision, but the all-Metro guard wanted a small school where he could continue to satisfy his lifelong appetite for the game. Monterossi wanted to help his parents pay for college as well, so when the Warriors offered enough scholarship money both athletically and scholastically to cover every expense, Corban became the clear choice.

“Not only do I get to keep doing what I love, but it pays for college. I wanted another four years of it,” said Monterossi. “And, I wanted a school that’s in a good division and a good fit for me. It’s a great environment and not too far from home. I’m really excited about it.”

Monterossi visited Herzberg and Dozier down in Salem and took in a couple of games to get a sense of the program and where he could potentially fit. The now former Skyhawk trio, who took Southridge to the state tournament in 2013, will live together next fall. Monterossi said Corban likes to get up and down the floor on the break, but also knows when to slow it down and be poised in the half court. The highly explosive guard has vast experience in each setting, having both endured the grind-it-out, dig-in and defend ways of Metro and the free-flowing methods of preseason when the games are more open.

“Another four years to be around my friends and do what I love, I couldn’t ask for anything better than that,” said Monterossi.

This season, there were adequate question marks surrounding Southridge, after losing so many all-league players off last year’s state tourney team. Who could score, lead, set the table for the other guys while setting a commanding tone all needed to be addressed if the Skyhawks had any chance of success. Monterossi took the bull by the horns, becoming “the guy” for a young team that openly asked their senior captain to guide them, look to score and get the squad going in the right direction. It took time — as any learning operation does — for the 5-foot-10 speedster to adjust his game accordingly.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - A.J. Monterossi was a first-team all-Metro point guard this season for Southridge, leading a young team that relied on the senior for scoring production.

“There was a lot more pressure on my shoulders,” admitted Monterossi. “But, I prepared for it. I knew it was going to be like that. I just did what I could for my team. There were games where I wanted to do more and should’ve done more, but I’m happy with it.”

Once Monterossi was secure in floor general duties, and found the stability of getting his own shot while also involving others, Southridge took off. Monterossi erupted for 41 points in a thrilling double-overtime win over eventual state tourney-bound Central Catholic and helped Southridge beat Jesuit in the Metro League opener. The Skyhawks advanced to the second round of the 6A playoffs, where their Moda Center motives were stopped by South Medford on the road. Yet, Southridge seemingly took its season as far as possible, squeezing the most potential out of its team, finishing third in Metro and winning 14 games.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for our program,” said Monterossi. “We left a legacy and not a lot of Southridge boys’ basketball teams have done that. Taking fourth in state my junior year and getting to the second round this year doesn’t happen that often there, so I’m glad I could lead that.”

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