Where are they Now? - '92 Gresham basketball ... part 2
The team had a Texas connection in '92 and again more than 20 years later
(Editor's Note: Due to an overwhelming response to last week's update on the 1992 Gresham basketball team, we've decided to do a follow up tracking down the rest of the starting five along with the 'Bash Brothers' from that year's team for Part 2).
The players from Gresham's 1992 state runner-up basketball team remember plenty from the court that season. The buzzer-beaters, winning the conference title, walking onto the Coliseum floor and of course that loss at the horn to Sheldon on championship night. But what follows them more than 20 years later are the bonds they built with their teammates and coaches, and even with the town that embraced that season with blue sign boards and packed houses. Adam Walker was named the league's MVP, although he admits it could have gone to any of Gresham's 'Big Three' that season. Dan Meckel and John Kromer (see Aug. 14 edition) were voted to the all-state team.
John, Dan and I all had similar stats at the end of the year. You could have flipped a coin three ways and any one of us could have had that award, Walker said. If you stopped one of us, the other two were going to score.
He was also the last Gresham player to put a finger on the ball with a chance to win the title.
Point guard John Valadez shook a defender and found the sharp-shooting Kromer on the wing for a jumper in the final seconds.
It was frantic with not much time left, Valadez said. John opened up perfectly on the play, and nine times out of 10 he makes that shot.
But this time it clipped the back iron and spun above the hoop. Walker was the closest blue shirt, panicked by the clock he tried to tap the ball through the net. His attempt slid off the rim, and the horn sounded as the ball fell to the floor.
I had no idea how much time was left, so I tried a desperate one-handed tip that bounced off, Walker said. Watching the tape later, I saw that I probably had time to come down and go back up.
It was only Gresham's second defeat of the season, but the locker room was quiet in the aftermath. The team waited for the arena to empty and boarded the bus in silence.
We get onto the bus and are all bummed out heading down the freeway when all of these police cars surround us lights flashing, forward Curtis Loeb said. I don't know who set it up, but we got a police escort back to Gresham and that definitely lifted out spirits. It wasn't quite like a parade, but it was special.
Walker went on to play jayvee basketball at Harvard for three seasons, earning an Ivy League degree that vaulted him to a career in the insurance industry. He has spent the past 20 years in Dallas, Texas, where he offers policies to cover teams for halftime contests.
Sink a halfcourt shot for 10 grand, and it's his shop that does the pay out. It's a job that has allowed Walker up close access to spotlight events such as the NBA Finals and the College Football Championship game.
We're the only people in the building who don't want them to make the shot, Walker laughs. In reality, we need people to win those contests we just prefer they aren't sinking million-dollar shots every night.
Walker still sinks plenty of shots himself, playing pick-up games twice a week against a load of former Division I athletes living in the area. He also coaches his kids youth teams.
Now, I'm 40 and still have a love for the game, Walker said. My son is going to start beating me 1-on-1 soon. He'll challenge me to horse and on a good day he'll win.
He is married to Jackie, his wife of 15 years, and has two children Dylan and Audrey.
Valadez remembers the talent on that Gresham squad that surprised most of the state with its first tournament appearance in school history. But it was no shock for a group that had lost only a handful of games dating back to middle school.
It was my job to get the ball to our guys in places they could score, Valadez said. People knew what we were trying to do, but they were powerless to stop it.
He went on to play football at Southern Oregon University and has remained in that part of the state where he has found a career as a high school business teacher. He has also been involved as a football coach at various levels over the past decade.
I got into teaching so that I could have the same kind of impact on kids lives, that my coaches at Gresham had on me, Valadez said. I wake up in the morning and head to work with the best feeling in the world.
He has three boys in Justin, Andru and Joel the oldest set to join the Marines this fall.
Joining Valadez in the coaching ranks is Bryan Ludwick, who along with Troy Naugle, formed the 'Bash Brothers' unit for that '92 squad. A linebacker and a strong safety, who transitioned a physical style to the hardwood.
We knew we were allowed five fouls let's put it that way, Ludwick laughs. Nobody was scoring on us.
Ludwick received a full-ride to play football at Oregon State during his junior year with the Gophers a work ethic that carried over into basketball season.
The football guys were pretty physical and brought in a 'no lose' mentality, Ludwick said. We squeaked out a lot of close wins because we battled for that extra rebound or worked to make that last defensive stop.
Ludwick went on to hold the record for tackles for loss at Oregon State.
He is married to his wife Roxxy with three sons Kaden, Jacob and Zack. He sold his insurance business last year and now serves as president of the Clackamas Youth Football Association where he coaches his son's middle-school team.
I learned how to work hard and treat people right, and that goes all the way back to those teams I was a part of, Ludwick said.
Naugle came into Gresham High as the new guy to a tight-knit group, his family coming from Corpus Christi, Texas, at the start of his freshman year. He wasn't shy about making his presence felt in the locker room whether it was cranking the volume on the stereo or playing a prank on a teammate.
I'm still like that. You can't take everything too seriously you have to have fun, Naugle said. I would do some of that crazy stuff, but when game time hit we all had the same focus.
Naugle maintains his creative spirit, living life on the edge as a high-rise traction elevator mechanic his career of the past 20 years. One of his most well-known projects would be working last year on Levi Stadium the new home of the San Francisco 49ers.
It's one of the most dangerous trades in the world, but it's fun, Naugle said. It definitely fits my type-A personality I look forward to tackling new challenges.
After Gresham, he played a season of football at Valley City State in North Dakota.
He is married 16 years to his wife Pamela, and the couple has three children in Trinity, Zoe and Chance. His daughters keep him busy traveling to softball tournaments, while 11-year-old Chance is discovering his father's favorite sport of football.
Curtis Loeb was the off-guard on the team, the quarterback during football season, he brought a steadying presence to the court.
He remembers an early-season incident that had head coach Larry Knudsen spitting fury, demanding that this group put its best effort forward. The football team was still in the midst of a playoff run, so after several hours working out on the field, Valadez and Loeb were matched up in 1-on-1 drills to start basketball practice. It ended up with two guys leaning on each other, not putting forth much effort.
We just came in exhausted, and looking back it was funny, basketballs were flying everywhere that day, Loeb said. Coach knew we had the potential for something big, and he wanted to make sure we worked hard for it.
Loeb went on to play three years of football at Portland State under the famous Pokey Allen regime eventually earning an engineering degree at UC-Davis. He now works in river restoration largely on the Willamette and Columbia waterways.
It combines engineering with getting out in the field, Loeb said. It's fun to see the projects all the way through.
He is married 14 years to his wife Megan, also a '92 Gresham graduate, and the couple has three kids Mary, Lucy and Ryan.
Reaching its full potential was a challenge for the '92 squad. Packed with so much talent, it could be difficult to challenge the 'Big Three' with worthy competition.
Enter Dave Craven.
A former Gresham graduate himself, he joined the coaching staff as an assistant that year with a focus on improving Meckel's ability near the basket. Craven arrived a month into the season after playing in a semi-pro league in Australia.
It didn't take long for Meckel to notice his presence.
We would stand under the basket taking turns dunking on each other, but when I'd go up he'd put an elbow in my gut and knock me to the floor, Meckel laughs.
It was those sessions that helped Meckel reach all-state status that season and go onto a college career at Division II Alaska Anchorage.
It was always a challenge to find someone who could go against Dan, so I took that task on and we worked on post moves and toughness, Craven said. They all had a drive to win they were all competitive.
Craven spent his college career at Linfield where he is a member of the Wildcats' Hall of Fame. He stayed on with the Gophers' staff through 1998 and has spent the past 15 years working in the floor covering business one of his more famous projects being the floor in the IMAX theater at the Evergreen Aviation Museum.