Love, Lakers first state title brings national attention
It was just a jamboree, but when the Sunset boys basketball team scored an early basket Monday night against Lake Oswego, the Sunset fans erupted as though their team had just won a state championship.
That was just a small taste of what will be waiting for the Lakers every time they step on the floor this season. After winning their first-ever state title last spring, the Lakers have now become the team that everyone desperately wants to beat. Accomplishing that feat, however, will be no easy task, at least for in-state teams.
From the perspective of coach Mark Shoff, this year's Lakers team looks even better than last year's squad. Of course, it helps when your top returning player is 6-foot-10 All-American post Kevin Love, who is regarded by many as one of the top five players in the nation.
But Shoff also has a strong supporting cast that includes guard Ernie Spada, who averaged more than 20 points a game during summer-league play, and Elliot Babcock-Krenk, who may be the team's most versatile player aside from Love.
The Lakers are so highly regarded outside of Oregon that they're ranked in the top 15 of virtually every national poll. They're ranked No. 5 in Street and Smith's basketball preview publication, and they're No. 4 according to USA Hoops and No. 12 in Sports Illustrated's poll.
Obviously, Love and his teammates have earned a fair amount of respect around the nation, and everyone seems to want a crack at them. So, just like last year, the Lakers will embark on a grueling out-of-state schedule that could leave them with a .500 record by the time they roll into league play.
The first out-of-state action will be next weekend when the Lakers take on Seattle's Franklin High School, Washington's defending 4A champs. In two weeks, there's a trip to Southern California to play a team from the Compton area. Then there's the Les Schwab tournament in late December, where top-ranked Oak Hill Academy will be the featured team. And in February, the Lakers will travel to California again to play fourth-ranked Mater Dei.
It's a tough schedule, which is just what Shoff wanted.
'We could sit around Oregon and beat up people and feel good and pump our chests,' Shoff said. 'But we need to go out and play teams that will make us better … Winning games isn't always the best way to evaluate your team. Sometimes you learn more from losses.
'It would be nice to go undefeated. But I don't think we're going to,' Shoff added. '(The schedule) could be even harder than last year's.'
Of course, very little of this national exposure would be coming Lake Oswego's way without the presence of Love, who will play at UCLA next season. Yet, despite how well he has played over the last three years, some people around the state have been bold enough to predict that Love will coast through his senior season since he seemingly has so little to play for. It probably won't take long, though, for those people to realize how mistaken they are.
'Yeah, I hope you put that in the paper,' Shoff said with a chuckle.
The first thing that many people fail to understand is how eager Love is to win another state championship, which is something he puts far above individual achievements.
'If he wants to separate himself from the best players all-time in Oregon, then another championship would help,' Shoff said.
But Love also would like to leave high school as Oregon's all-time leading scorer for the state's top classification. Through his first three seasons, Love scored 1,649 points, an average of 24.6 per game. He also has 1,004 rebounds for a 15-per game average. Plus, he could become the state's first three-time player of the year.
To reach his lofty goals, Love embarked on a strenuous workout regimen that is now in its second full year. The results of those workouts, which were conducted by Lakers girls coach Jason Fawcett, have been noticeable in the team's practices and during Monday's jamboree.
'He's easily jumping a good five to six inches higher than he did last year … (Plus) he's so strong,' Shoff said.
'The scary part is he's not even as good as he's going to be in another two or three years,' the coach added. 'There's no doubt in my mind that he is the best that's ever come out of Oregon.'
With a player that good, some people might think that the quality of the supporting cast is unimportant. But anyone who believes that didn't watch last year's state tournaments when, in addition to Love, the Lakers got major contributions from people like Spada, Babcock-Krenk and a pair of graduated players - Vince Thomas and Mike McLaughlin.
Spada is probably the team's unsung hero. He never gets enough credit for the things he does, largely because he's been overshadowed by Love.
'But we didn't have Kevin at all during summer league and we went 16-2 and (Spada) was our guy,' Shoff said. 'If he was in one of these other programs and wasn't playing with Kevin, he'd be scoring a lot more.
'Ernie's basketball savvy is rock solid … For the last four years, he's really held his own.'
Babcock-Krenk, a junior, was the Lakers' sixth man for most of last season but he also started several games when McLaughlin was injured. He can play at least three positions and is a good defender at each of them. But now he's looking to score more.
'He still is a role player. But he sees himself as more of a scorer. He's capable of scoring in the 20s on any given night,' Shoff said.
Holding down the remaining front-court spot alongside Love and Babcock-Krenk will probably be Max Jacobsen, a 6-7 sophomore. He looked good on last year's freshmen team and he looked even better during summer-league play. When Love is double and triple-teamed, which will be often, Jacobsen is one of the guys who will be asked to pick up part of the scoring load.
Also helping to shore up the front line will by 6-2 Tommy Allen, who has shown a lot of promise in preseason practice.
The Lakers will have plenty of depth in the back-court. In addition to Spada, Shoff can use Landon Ainge, Pat Adelman, Taylor Marr or Kyle Lavender. Sometimes the coach may use four of them together. All of them are good shooters and good defenders and they'll see plenty of playing time.
Adelman, the son of former Trail Blazers coach Rick Adelman, transferred to Lake Oswego when his family recently moved here from California. Just like his father was, the younger Adelman is a point guard and a quick one.
'He's short but he's a really good passer and he defends really well,' Shoff said. 'He's so quick that he gets right up in your grill and he makes it tough for opposing guards to bring the ball up.'
When the Lakers have the ball they probably will try to run as much as possible, especially when Love is making his patented length-of-the-floor outlet passes. But it's a good bet that league opponents will try to slow Lake Oswego down as much as possible.
'When we get into league I'm sure we'll see all sorts of gadget defenses like we did last year,' Shoff predicted. 'But we'll dictate the tempo through our defense, not what the other team is doing offensively.'
Regardless of what kind of strange defensive strategies the opponents employ, there's little doubt that everyone will bring their best game when they play Lake Oswego.
'These guys know they have targets on their backs,' Shoff said. 'If a .500 team beat us that would make their whole season. So we're going to have to be ready night in and night out, and not take it for granted that we're someone special.'