Long-time doormat Lincoln is now the team to beat in the competitive PIL
A year ago, the Lincoln Cardinals were virtual unknowns, a hopeful group of basketball players with dreams of playing for the Portland Interscholastic League boys title and then, maybe, the Class 4A state title.
That was a year ago.
This year, the Cardinals start the season ranked No. 2 in the state, which makes them a marked team.
'We're definitely going to have to keep our heads straight,' says junior forward Latravis Turner, one of Lincoln's key players, 'because this year is a lot different than last year.
'But we have a lot of the same guys on our team, and we're a year older, more mature, and we have great team unity. It's going to be a very interesting year.'
Lincoln, which won the PIL title for the first time in 39 years, is the favorite to repeat as league champion, thanks to the return of Turner and point guard Omar Leary, who was a first-team all-league pick as a sophomore. Jeff Bair, who had been the coach at Willamette High in Eugene, takes over the Lincoln program.
But the PIL is likely to be as competitive as it has been in years.
Grant, which last won the PIL title in 1987, and Jefferson also got votes in the first statewide coaches poll. And Benson, Cleveland, Roosevelt and Wilson have playoff aspirations, making the 18-game schedule a test of endurance for the four teams that reach the Class 4A state playoffs.
'The league looks extremely competitive this year,' says Grant's Tony Broadous, who was the league's coach of the year the past two seasons. 'You have to watch out for everyone.'
Jefferson, which had a four-year string of PIL titles snapped last season, graduated several players who were part of the program when the Democrats went undefeated and won the 2000 state title. This year's team, which includes junior guard Mac Hopson, has similarities to the 2000 team, coach Marshall Haskins says.
'People forget we were a pretty good team in 1999, too,' says Haskins, who led the 1999 team to fourth place at the state tourney. 'If we don't have a bad shooting night in the state tournament, we might have won that state title, too.
'This team has a lot of similarities with the 1999 team that became the 2000 team, in terms of talent. When you look at our roster, you might think we're a team that might be a year away. But then you have to remember that this is Jefferson.
'Our guys think they're going to win state every year.'
Broadous thinks that his roster, led by senior Donnie Harrison-Davis, is starting to approach the traditional level of talent at Jefferson, which brings with it some challenging problems.
'We're working hard on defense, which is an area we can improve on,' Broadous says. 'But, we're going to have a challenge with egos, too. You can't play everyone equally and win Ñ that's just not possible.
'So, our real challenge is going to be to get guys to take one for the team and not play as much on some nights. If we can do that, and play better defense, the sky's the limit for our team.'
Bair took over as coach at Lincoln, replacing Troy Berry, who left the Cardinals after five years to take over at his alma mater, Benson. Franklin also has a new coach in former Wilson assistant Charles Odenthal.
Each of the PIL's four playoff teams will need to win at least two games to reach the eight-team, double-elimination portion of the Class 4A state tournament at Eugene's McArthur Court.
Leary says the Cardinals will be keeping their eye on the top teams around the state, beginning with No. 1 Jesuit and defending champion Redmond. The PIL's teams haven't won a first-round game at the tournament the past two seasons.
'The PIL got a lot of grief because of what happened in the first round,' Leary says. 'So we want to come back and make amends for that. We're going to be watching the rest of the state.'
Here's a look at the PIL's teams:
Benson: The Techmen, who played for the state title in 2001, feature senior guard DeShawn McKenzie and returnees Thomas Tillery and Bryan Martin from a state playoff team. Junior forward Ramon Wray has significant potential as well.
Cleveland: The Warriors return three players who were all-PIL honorable mention picks as juniors: forward Ben McAnnis-Entenmann and guards Avery Rosen and Mike Willis. Senior Bobby Olive also has all-league potential. Cleveland dropped its opener to Beaverton 61-53 but outscored the Beavers 31-24 in the second half.
Franklin: The Quakers won their opener, 72-67, over Liberty High, behind 19 points from returnee Lloyd Noble. Andrew Harper and Nick Land also figure as key returning players.
Grant: The Generals have a host of talented players around Harrison-Davis, who was a first-team all-leaguer as a junior. Senior Aaron Dickson and junior Dominic Waters were honorable mention picks. Senior Ryan Carroll and Nick Green and juniors Russell Millage and Ndamukong Suh figure prominently, too.
Jefferson: Mac Hopson is one of the best point guards in the state and has a solid front line to lob passes to in 6-7 junior Brian Morris and 6-4 senior Bayo Arigibon. Senior guard Anthony Atherton has varsity experience, as does sophomore Lathan Wallace.
Lincoln: The Cardinals have a solid big man in 6-10 senior Colin Halberg and perhaps the league's best shooter in senior guard Mark Robinowitz, who has worked his way into being the replacement for graduated Neal Zumwalt. Senior Carl Baird provides depth on the front line.
Madison: The Senators will rely heavily on the scoring of 6-1 junior guard Antwan Williams and the overall play of returning senior guards Jeffrey Howard and Drew Prazeau. They opened the season with a one-point win.
Marshall: The Minutemen, who started last season with only one junior on their varsity roster, will rely heavily on seniors Brandon Pietrzyk and Jarrod Grahn, who led the football team to the Class 4A playoffs.
Roosevelt: Seniors Jerrell Allen and Andre Ferguson were all-league honorable mention picks last season, when the Roughriders tallied a rare win over Jefferson. The team seems to be comfortable playing under pressure, having won its opening two games by one point each.
Wilson: The Trojans return honorable mention all-leaguer Cody Aker, a senior forward, and have exciting sophomore Ian Andersen developing as well. Senior forward Jeff Christensen has college potential. Senior forward Jermaine Jordan-Brown, who scored 30 points in the team's opening win over Westview Friday, may be the league's most improved player.