Shhh. Don't tell anybody that Cascade can't hit the broad side of its own gymnasium with outside shots. Not that the lack of 3-point shooters slowed down the Thunderbirds, who are in the midst of the best season ever for the Portland school.

The Thunderbirds (25-7) already have qualified for the NAIA Division II tournament in Branson, Mo., in two weeks. Cascade plays host to Albertson on Saturday in the second round of the Cascade Conference playoffs. Another Portland school, Concordia, plays host to Oregon Tech the same night.

The Thunderbirds would dearly love to play Concordia in Tuesday night's conference final, because that would mean both Portland schools advance to the national tournament. And Cascade coach Craig Moody has ties to Concordia coach Brad Barbarick. It's a good rivalry.

Either way, the Thunderbirds are

going to the promised land, and Moody figures that Cascade has the ideal formula for playing in the NAIA Division II tournament.

The Thunderbirds rank in the top 10 nationally in points allowed defensively (66.2), shooting percentage (.484) and rebounding margin (10.5).

'We have to go and defend really well,' Moody says. 'We rebound and defend as well as any team in the country. And we get good shots and make them.'

Shhh. Don't tell anybody that Cascade shoots .302 from the 3-point line, the worst in its conference. Moody accentuates the positive in practice, anyway.

'We miss the shot, we get the offensive rebound,' a chuckling Clifford White says. 'Assume every shot's a miss and go after it.'

Cascade beat NCAA Division I Portland State and NCAA Division III Lewis & Clark this year and has the kind of talent not seen often at its level. Credit Moody. He does the recruiting, logging a lot of miles by car and working the phones for hours.

His network must be pretty good. Moody uses his six scholarships wisely: He must possess some strong sales skills to attract players to the small Christian school on East Burnside that had no tradition before he got there.

'He drove hundreds of miles to see me play,' says center Matt Evers, the team's leading scorer (15 points per game) from Fruitland, Idaho, who played at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton. 'And he's a family-oriented guy.'

One of Moody's assistants, Ryan Wagner, had a Bahamas connection when he arrived at Cascade and helped the school attract islander Emelike Delancy, a former T-Bird. Soon after, 6-6 forward Randy Kelly came from the Bahamas, followed by point guard Demyeon Bethel and Emelike's brother, Alfred.

Three Bahamians on the same team in Portland? Get outta here.

If you haven't seen Kelly, he has incredible leaping ability. Moody tells the story of how Kelly can jump and do 180-degree dunks six times in a row from a standing start.

Accepting a challenge, Kelly once put a stickie note on his hand and jumped to see how high he could place it on the backboard.

'It was 6 inches above the box,' Moody says.

Never mind that Kelly clanks most jump shots. He, 6-7 Alfred Delancy, 6-3 White and 6-10 Evers are shooting mostly layups anyway. The T-Birds are unselfish, relentless rebounders and energetic defenders, led by White, a 1998 Madison High graduate who played with Evers in junior college.

'From where he came as a freshman, you wouldn't even recognize him,' Evers says. 'He's the MVP of our team, the way he puts it out every night.'

Junior Tevis Jones, a 6-5 guard, had a pretty good year, averaging 15 points. Jones, Kelly, Bethel and point guard Mike Matangi return next year.

And, Moody says, he has an upper hand in recruiting the best young players in, of all places, the Bahamas.

Notes: Kelly (7.2), Evers (6.8) and Delancy (6.7) rank in the top 10 in Cascade Conference rebounders. É Kelly, ineligible in December, leads the league in field-goal shooting (.642), followed by Evers (.627). É The Cascade women's season ended Tuesday in the playoffs, but the Thunderbirds (20-12) could play in the National Christian College Athletic Association tournament. É Cascade's Nicole Brown shared the league's player of the year honors with Southern Oregon's Kara Magee-Arick. Brown (25.4 points), Marquetta Pruitt (12.7 rebounds) and Silver Pierce (7.83 assists) were among NAIA leaders in stats.

Lewis & Clark's Kristofer Speier and Colin Oriard and Willamette's Marques Johnson were among the NCAA Division III Northwest Conference all-league first-team members.

The most successful college basketball team in L.A. this winter is NCAA Division III Occidental, coached by former Wilson High standout Brian Newhall. Newhall's Tigers are 20-2 overall and 11-0 in California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. They are ranked 11th nationally and have qualified for the national Division III tournament Ñ the school's first postseason appearance since 1979.

Contact Jason Vondersmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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