Jefferson heads to playoffs with 2013 repeat in mind

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Silas Melson is one of three standout guards who fuel the Jefferson Democrats attack. The Demos went undefeated in the Portland Interscholastic League 5A season and begin their postseason run on Saturday.The Jefferson High boys basketball team is poised to make another run at a state championship.

The Democrats are ranked No. 1 in Class 5A. Churchill is No. 2, and the title game March 15 at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene could be a rematch of the 2013 final, in which Jefferson edged the Lancers 59-53.

Can the Demos do it again, and capture their fifth crown in the past seven years?

“We have a chance,” Jefferson coach Pat Strickland says. “This team reminds me of the past Jefferson teams that won state.”

The Democrats are 22-1, with 17 consecutive victories since their 90-72 loss on Dec. 28 to nationally ranked Rainier Beach of Seattle in the Les Schwab Invitational.

“At this point in the season, everything is starting to come together,” Stickland says. “We can only be our worst enemy. For a team to beat us, we’re going to have to beat ourselves.”

Jefferson won the 5A Portland Interscholastic League championship with a 12-0 record. Their average margin of league win was 23.6 points, although Benson lost to them by only two and six points, and Cleveland came within five and seven.

The Demos’ nonleague victims included Grant (a 23-point victory), Lincoln (18-point margin), Jesuit (4), No. 1-ranked 6A West Linn (9) and Churchill (a 67-55 Jefferson win on Dec. 29).

Jefferson accomplished some of that without one of its key players, Greyson Smallwood. Strickland says that the 6-11 junior post played in only the Demos’ first two PIL games because of a decision by his parents.

“He had some off-the-court stuff at home that he was dealing with,” Strickland says. “He wasn’t following the rules of his home, and his parents took him off the court for a little bit.”

While Strickland certainly did not want to lose one of his key players for a good chunk of the season, he supported the decision by Smallwood’s parents.

“I’m a parent as well,” Strickland says. “I’m in the business of helping kids. They’re going to make mistakes, and it’s up to us as parents, mentors and coaches to help them figure out the path. Sometimes they take a step or two off the path, but it’s up to us to help them get back on the path. That’s what Greyson is going through now. He’s getting back on the path.”

Smallwood began practicing with the Demos again on Monday. With him on the court, along with 7-0 senior post Sundi Edwards, Jefferson has a presence in the middle, height-wise, that many NBA teams do not have.

However, neither Edwards nor Smallwood have played basketball for very long and both are still inconsistent on offense. They provide a huge defensive advantage for the Demos, though.

“Both of the 7-footers are kind of raw, still, with their backs to the bucket,” Strickland says. “But they help us out with a defensive presence in the middle. In the games Greyson has played, he was averaging seven blocks a game. That helps our guards get out with pressure on the perimeter, because they know we have a guy who is going to protect the rim for us. That’s huge.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Pat Strickland, Jefferson High boys basketball coach, says his team will have to play hard, defend and rebound to repeat as state champion.“It’s always good to have one of those (tall) guys, and we happen to have two of them.”

Jefferson’s three starting guards — Silas Melson, Devaunte Paschal and Strickland’s son, Kadeem Strickland — have been the pistons in the Demos’ engine this season.

“We have three guards who have been playing really well, and they’ve been keeping everything together,” Pat Strickland says. “For us to make a deep run, those guys are going to have to continue to play well.”

Melson, a 6-3 senior bound for Gonzaga, “is averaging 24 points a game,” Strickland says. “He’s one of our leaders and one of our best players. His leadership and the different things he can bring on the court have helped us tremendously.”

Kadeem Strickland, a 5-9 junior, “has been our floor general,” Pat Strickland says. “He’s a defensive competitor and can run the team. He’s averaging 15.7 assists.”

Paschal, a 6-3 senior, “is really our sleeper guy,” Strickland says. “Coming into the season no one really spoke about him. But at this point he’s a guy that teams are scouting for. He’s averaging 13 points and six rebounds per game.”

Jefferson’s first playoff game will be at home on Saturday. A win would put the Demos into the eight-team 5A tournament and give Jefferson a 1:30 p.m. quarterfinal game on March 13.

The coach says his squad is ready.

“We finished the season really strong,” Strickland says. “It all started to click. And we’ve been having the best practices since I’ve been here. They’ve been really good. Guys have been getting after it, guys have been getting heated. It’s been really competitive.”

Strickland says there are three keys for Jefferson to hoist a championship trophy again: intensity, rebounding and defense.

“Any coach in the world should be able to recite that,” he says. “Defense and rebounding and playing at a high intensity helps you put a ring on your finger at the end of everything.”

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