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Generals like their chances

Prep Boys Basketball • Jefferson looks to unseat defending 5A champion North Eugene
by: JIM CLARK, Tyrone White and the Jefferson Democrats head into the 5A state tournament with the No. 2 ranking, while Josh Hardin (right) and Grant are among the 6A contenders.

Hope springs anew for Grant High.

Two literally big roadblocks have been removed from the Generals' path in the Class 6A boys basketball state championship.

'There's no more Kevin Love, no more Kyle Singler,' coach Tony Broadous says. 'There is a Brad Tinsley (of Oregon City) and a Michael Harthun (of South Medford), but those guys are normal height.'

Love, now at UCLA, and Singler, now with Duke, dominated the big-school tournament in recent years. They made Lake Oswego and South Medford the teams to beat. Grant placed fourth last year after losing to South Medford in the quarterfinals, with Singler getting 32 points and 11 rebounds.

This season, Oregon City has been No. 1, but the top seven teams in the rankings, including Grant and Central Catholic, made the final eight and figure to have a shot at the title.

'It's wide-open. We're excited,' Grant post Mike Moser says. 'We're probably the favorite, but you've got OC and a lot of good teams.'

Grant opens with a 1:30 p.m. Thursday quarterfinal against Tualatin.

Class 5A Jefferson, meanwhile, has a huge quarterfinal matchup -the second-ranked Democrats will meet No. 1 North Eugene at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday. The Highlanders won it all last year, going 27-0 and downing Roosevelt 38-28 in the final. Their leader is 6-8 forward Brian Conklin, the reigning 5A player of the year who has signed to play for Rick Majerus at St. Louis University next year.

'It's probably the biggest game 5A's ever had,' Jefferson guard Kalonji Paschal says.

Both tournaments run through Saturday at McArthur Court in Eugene.

• Jefferson (22-1) almost certainly is playing its final games for coach Marshall Haskins. Haskins, 44, has taken over as interim administrator of the Jefferson Young Men's Academy. The position could become permanent, in which case Haskins would step down, presumably handing the reins to assistant coach Pat Strickland next season.

'A lot of people are interested (in the job),' principal Cynthia Harris says. If Haskins stays with the academy, 'we'll probably have a committee and look at everybody,' Harris says.

Haskins' situation has given his team an even greater sense of urgency.

'That's why we want to take it (the title) this year,' sophomore Terrance Jones says.

• North Eugene (24-2) also has an experienced 6-10 junior in Joe Kammerer. Jefferson's Jones played with Kammerer and Conklin on the AAU Team Jones last summer.

'North Eugene will go down to the low post a lot (Wednesday), but I know their moves,' Jones says.

Haskins says the Highlanders 'play hard and smart … it should be a good game … the difference should be our athleticism.'

• Some fans want to compare this Jefferson team to the 2000 state champions led by Brandon Brooks, Aaron Miles, Michael Lee and others, but Haskins isn't going there.

'Two years from now, you can compare the team to 2000,' he says, 'because that team will have four high-level Division I players all 6-4 or taller.'

That includes 6-7 Jones and 6-6 sophomore Terrance Ross, who was voted PIL 5A co-player of the year by the coaches. This year's team has another good sophomore, 6-7 Noah Kone, and Haskins is eager to see what fellow sophs A.J. Johnson, 6-2, and Rashaad Dent, 6-3, can do when they hit the varsity next year.

'Those guys call themselves the Fab Five,' Haskins says.

• Jones, a left-hander, can play every position. The Demos like to isolate him on offense, but he also can post up. And when Jefferson goes to a zone defense, he's in the middle, guarding the basket. 'I try to be Chris Paul and LeBron James on offense, and when I'm down low, Dwight Howard,' he says.

He grew up playing basketball with a famous cousin - Erica Mashia, who starred for the Jefferson girls in the 1990s and went on to USC. 'I played her a lot when I was little, but never beat her,' Jones says, 'and she won't play me now.'

• Paschal and another senior starter, Tyrone White, are cousins, and their fathers both played for Jefferson in the late '80s. White Sr. was a first-team 4A state tournament pick in 1987.

'They actually want to play us 2-on-2; they think they can still beat us,' Paschal says.

• White, Paschal and Henry Williams head the senior class that made room for the sophomore stars after Jeff's sixth-place showing at state in 2007.

'We had six transfers last year,' White says. 'The seniors bring leadership now, and our team chemistry is better. A lot of us hang out together, and stats don't mean anything to us.'

• The tournament fields have only a few surprises this year -6A Tualatin pulled off a minor upset in beating Lake Oswego on Saturday, while 5A quarterfinalists Mountain View and Sherwood haven't been highly ranked. Jeff would face Mountain View-Sherwood in Friday's semifinals. The other half of the 5A bracket has four contenders, including Century and Corvallis, which beat Jeff 77-61 in last year's quarterfinals.

• Grant has momentum after its 73-57 victory Saturday over Westview.

'The PIL is known for playing a fast pace,' guard Mike James says, 'but people say we don't play smart and don't play defense. We're trying to prove them wrong.'

In James, guard Paul McCoy and the 6-8 Moser, 'we have three go-to guys,' Broadous says. 'We've got a lot of other guys who are willing to play a role and are skilled.'

Among them: 6-4 senior Josh Hardin, known mostly for his defense and rebounding. 'He's our Dennis Rodman,' Broadous says.

• Grant's depth got a boost a few games ago when senior guard Daniel Collins returned from a broken hand. 'He played well in the postseason last year,' Broadous says. 'He's a college guard, on some level … a defensive guy, mostly, but he can score.'

• Central Catholic held off the PIL's Benson 58-55 in a nip-and-tuck game Saturday. Benson led 52-50 with two minutes to go. Central took the lead for good when Nate Carr was fouled on a long shot and made all three free throws. Benson had two possessions with a chance to go ahead or tie but couldn't convert.

The Rams will play Garrett Sim-led Sunset at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

'We feel real good,' Central guard Jordan Freelander says.'If we keep doing what we've been doing, we can do well in Eugene. … We want to be the underdogs and have people overlook us.'

• The Rams went inside against Benson, using 6-5 football star Demetrius Guice to help them to a 40-20 edge in points in the paint. 'D-Bo' also had a key steal and thunderous dunk down the stretch.

• The Rams lost the services of junior Damas Gakwasi, who sufferd hand and face injuries in an auto accident a couple of hours before the Benson game.

The 6-4 Gakwasi, second-team all-Mount Hood Conference, is the Rams' second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer. Coach Mike Petrino says he is 'very doubtful' for the tournament.

• Metro League champ Sunset will present the Rams with more than just Sim, the guard who is headed for Cal next year.

'They're like Noah's ark,' Petrino says. 'They've got two of everything.'