Demos host their own tournament and ponder traveling out of state
As the snow melts this week, the basketball season truly begins to heat up for the Jefferson High boys team, which is set to play four games in six days.
Basketball overload is nothing new at Jefferson, where state titles are the annual expectation and alumni are encroaching on the NBA.
Jefferson easily could be focusing on its fourth game of the week Ña Saturday afternoon duel with Mount Tahoma High of Seattle in the MLK Invitational at the Chiles Center.
Not only is that game a chance to beat a Northwest rival, but hosting the tournament is another step forward for the Democrats, arguably Oregon's most respected and recognized program.
'There's no doubt about that,' says Grant coach Tony Broadous, whose Generals are 7-0 and set to play Westchester of Los Angeles in the MLK Invitational. 'You've got to hand it to them, what they've been able to accomplish at Jefferson.'
'We're building our reputation,' says Marshall Haskins, the Jefferson coach and athletic director who could begin taking his team around the country next season for early-season games. 'We're steadily producing college players, and we're producing at the state tournament, too. We might not win every year, but we win trophies, and we're pretty proud of that.'
Last season, the MLK Invitational was played over two days at Jefferson, but the Demos' basketball program seemingly is big enough to outgrow its own gym. Last week's winter storm shuffled the lineup, which has expanded from three to four games.
Benson (2-4) is set to play Barlow (5-4) in the opener at 11:30 a.m. Jefferson (6-1) will take on Mount Tahoma, which played in the tournament last year, at 12:45 p.m.
Jefferson's girls team plays Jesuit at 2 p.m. in a game originally scheduled for Jan. 2 at Jesuit, and the Grant-Westchester tourney finale will start at 3:15 p.m.
Democrats aren't just big in Iowa these days; Jefferson's Demos are steadily becoming a program with a national reputation.
Graduates Aaron Miles and Michael Lee are at Kansas, Thomas Gardner is at Missouri, Brandon Lincoln plays for Oregon, Antone Jarrell is at Portland State and Brandon Brooks was a key player at Southern Cal until a vicious ankle injury sidelined him last year.
Jefferson has won a state trophy for five straight years and went unbeaten in 1999-2000. Jesuit also has won trophies for five straight years.
The Demos' stature as a regional and national program is one reason that Haskins struggled with deciding which team to schedule as an opponent on Saturday, Westchester or Garfield of Seattle, which was a late scratch.
Facing a Seattle team is intriguing, but playing a team from Los Angeles that was ranked No. 4 in the nation by School Sports magazine at the start of the season interested Haskins, too.
For Jefferson, scheduling is becoming a larger issue than just finding opponents and officials. The Demos, who are affiliated with Nike, get offers to fly around the nation annually. Last year, they opened their season in St. Louis, Mo. Next year, the Demos could travel significantly, becoming a team much like those that are invited to the annual Les Schwab Invitational at the Chiles Center in December.
'I think we're there,' says Haskins, whose team has five sophomores. 'We could have traveled this year, but we're still a little young and I wanted us to wait.
'But, we could travel. We've had that available for several years.'
Broadous thinks more travel would be positive not only for the Demos but for Oregon prep basketball in general.
'They're raising the level of their program,' Broadous says. 'I think that helps our state. That's definitely something we're working on here, too. We had an invitation to play in a tournament in Los Angeles this year, but the invitation came too late to change our schedule. But we're looking forward to that.'
Jefferson's national reputation can be seen in the teams it is able to schedule for the Invitational. Last year, the Demos brought in Mount Zion Academy of Durham, N.C., which began this season as the nation's No. 2 team, according to School Sports magazine. Jefferson beat Mount Zion last year.
Hoops on the move
If the Demos go to something of a national schedule next season, they would just be keeping pace with prep basketball in general.
Many of the prep programs that consistently send players to college programs now travel the nation in December and early January.
Oregon City, the dominant girls team in Oregon, rarely schedules a non-league game against an Oregon team.
Many of Oregon's better basketball programs have been getting a primer in December play through the 16-team Les Schwab Invitational, which played out for the eighth time this year. The tourney has consistently been able to attract quality teams from other states. Carmelo Anthony, a star rookie in the NBA, played in the Schwab event as a senior at Virginia's Oak Hill Academy.
The Oregon Class 4A state champion has played in the previous seven Schwab invitationals, but that might change in the future as Jefferson and other programs decide whether to play more games out of state. Lake Oswego, with highly publicized freshman Kevin Love, is likely to become a target of those who promote out-of-state tournaments.
For the Demos, travel to these out-of-state tourneys would be free. If they're impressive enough on the court, they might even get paid a fee as an enticement to travel.
Jefferson and other teams in the Portland Interscholastic League can schedule only six non-league games per season. The Les Schwab Invitational takes up four of those games.
'The Les Schwab was invented to hype up high school basketball in December, to put some energy into the start of the season, and it's done that,' says Neil Lomax, whose company, ProMax, runs the Les Schwab Invitational. 'We've been able to bring in some great teams, and Oregon teams have competed well with them, especially the last couple years.
'But if teams go out of state, that's probably good for the state. And we're probably partially responsible for that.'