Once a cellar-dweller, now the Panthers are battling for tourney victories

by: COURTESY OF CLIFF PFENNING - The Portland Community College men's basketball team celebrates its co-division title and groundbreaking berth in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges tournament.Losing basketball has been a long-standing tradition at Portland Community College.

In its 30-year history in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges, the Panthers have had one season with an overall winning record — 15-13 in 1991-92 — with no division championships and no trips to the conference post-season tournament.

Until now.

The 2013-14 Panthers have broken new ground on a number of fronts on their way to the NWAACC Tournament, which begins Saturday at Kennewick, Wash.

In his second year as head coach, Tony Broadous has taken PCC to a school-record 19-9 record and a co-championship in the NWAACC’s South Division. The Panthers (10-4 in conference play) meet Lower Columbia (11-14 overall, 9-7 in NWAAC action) in a first-round game Saturday night at Kennewick.

To get there is a monumental achievement for a program that has been among the worst, if not the worst, in the 33-team league through the course of three decades.

“I feel really excited for the school, for the community, for the players,” Broadous says. “It’s an accomplishment that’s neat to be a part of, the result a great effort from a lot of people. I’m happy to be the facilitator.”

The Panthers aren’t satisfied with just getting to the 16-team NWAACC Tournament, though.

“The plan is to go in there, take it all and bring a championship back home to Portland,” sophomore guard Warren Edmondson says.

To understand the scope of what PCC has accomplished, one must look at yearly records since the inception of the program in 1984-85. There have been seasons of 3-23, 4-22, 7-23, 3-20, 2-21, 5-18, 2-23, 1-25, 5-22, 6-21, 4-22 and 5-22. In 2011-12, the Panthers hit rock bottom, going 0-24.

Enter Broadous, 46, a three-time PIL coach of the year who took Grant to a Class 6A championship in 2008. During his 10 years with the Generals, Broadous coached such athletes as Dominic Waters, Ndamukong Suh, Mike Moser, Paul McCoy, Andre Broadous, Mike James and Kenneth Acker.

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Coach Tony Broadous, who won a state championship with Grant High, says the challenge at Portland Community College excited him.Broadous is a city guy, a 1985 Jefferson High graduate who played baseball and basketball at Lane CC before graduating from Oregon State in 1990. Before his run at Grant, Broadous coached 10 years at Roosevelt, the final six as head coach.

Looking for a new challenge, Broadous signed on at PCC to succeed Kevin Collier, who was let go after a four-year coaching run. One of the problems had been that until 2004, the Panthers divided home games between gyms at the Cascade, Rock Creek and Sylvania campuses. Now they are all played at the Cascade campus in North Portland.

Broadous set out trying to make PCC a destination for some of the talent that abounds in that section of Portland.

“I don’t now if they’ve ever had the right guy in here, someone who really knew the city,” he says. “I know a lot of coaches and players in the area. I have a huge passion for making sure the school that represents the community has a good program.

“I felt like I could come in and get the guys we would need to help us win. I set some high expectations. I told the kids, ‘We expect to win, and if you make the commitment, we will win.’ ”

Many of the city kids didn’t want to play at PCC until Broadous came aboard.

Edmondson, who grew up in Portland but played his high school ball at Evergreen High in Vancouver, was recruited by Collier but chose to sit out a year.

“I wasn’t sure I was ready for college basketball, and I decided I didn’t like the direction (the Panther program) was going,” Edmondson says. “But once I talked to Tony and the coaches, I saw the path they were on. I knew it was built for success.”

PCC was competitive in 2012-13, finishing 12-15 overall and third in the division at 8-6.

“It was kind of a scramble putting together the roster,” Edmondson says. “Tony got hired late, and there weren’t a lot of players we could pick up. And we didn’t know how to play with each other. Now we have a lot of sophomore leadership.”

With six sophomores and six freshmen, the Panthers completed the quick turnaround this season despite having no one in the top 20 in the league in scoring.

“We have a balanced team,” Broadous says. “No superstars. Just a group of guys who can all play and work hard and enjoy playing together.”

Edmondson is PCC’s lone first-team all-NWAACC selection. Freshman guard Josh Turner, a second-team all-league and freshman of the year choice, missed the first eight games due to a transfer from Clark. He has been an important addition, ranking ninth in the conference in steals and 10th in blocked shots.

The 6-1 Turner never played varsity ball in high school. He was on the JV team at Grant as a freshman but became ineligible academically as a sophomore, then transferred to Clackamas High.

“I was not going to class at Grant,” Turner says. “My biggest fear was going to school. I was just being lazy. It was bad. I decided I needed a fresh start. I thought Clackamas was it, but it wasn’t.”

Turner dropped out of school at Clackamas, but earned his GED and enrolled at Clark. He played in a couple of preseason scrimmages last season but decided “the situation wasn’t right for me” and dropped out of school.

“Some of my friends went to (PCC) and kept trying to get me here,” Turner says. “When Tony came, I decided to give it a try. Turns out he’s the best coach. He has turned the program around in two years. That says a lot.”

At 29, power forward Carl Appleton is the graybeard of the team. The former Central Catholic High football/basketball standout spent a year as a tight end at Oregon State before returning to Portland. In 2008-09, at age 24, he played one season of basketball at PCC.

“The program wasn’t as good as it is now,” the 6-3, 250-pound Appleton says. “I didn’t play my second year.”

Last fall, Appleton was taking classes at PCC and stopped by to say hello to athletic

director Dick Magruder.

“He told me about the changes to the program and Coach Broadous,” Appleton says. “It perked my interest. I’m an older guy and don’t have the same goals as these other guys. I just wanted to be involved and play some basketball. I felt I could contribute.”

Appleton started out on the bench but has emerged as a starter, even filling in at center for injured 6-9 sophomore Anthony Hines over the last four games of the regular season. Appleton wound up leading the NWAACC in offensive rebounds and was named to the league’s All-Defense first team.

“It’s easy to move people, but the league’s pretty athletic,” Appleton says. “It’s hard to rebound over people when you’re down on the ground level. I get a lot of rebounds even though I don’t jump as high as I used to. I create a lot of chaos down there.”

by: COURTESY OF STEVEN YOUNG - Josh Turner, a freshman guard, is one of several Portland Community College Panthers who came together this season under new coach Tony Broadous and turned the program into a big winner.Cameraderie and cohesiveness have been keys for the Panthers this season. Broadous uses 10 men in his rotation.

“We’ve grown together as a unit,” Appleton says. “It’s been wonderful being on a team again. And we really are a team.”

“We have a great locker room,” Turner says. “Everybody’s cool with each other. We have the deepest bench in the league. Our bench players could start on any other crew.”

One of the problems in past seasons has been keeping players eligible. Broadous has focused heavily on academics. He has a volunteer academic coach and has instituted mandatory study table two days a week. Assistant coaches Tyrone White and Aaron Bell monitor each of the player’s course progress. Over the past two seasons, the Panthers have lost only one player to grades.

“The program has had good players, but everybody would flunk out,” Edmondson says. Focus on the academic side “has helped a lot of people.”

Magruder gives Broadous much credit for the quick uptick in success.

“It’s amazing to turn around a program in two years,” says Magruder, in his sixth year as AD. “The amount of time he has put in and the work that goes along with that is very impressive.

“Tony’s relationship with the players is tremendous. He has a great reputation from high school, he’s a local product, and he has a lot of respect in the community. Plus, he’s a coach who knows how to win games.”

Says Turner: “I wouldn’t go anyplace else but here. We have a good relationships with all of the coaches. They are pretty much like our dads. We can talk to them about anything outside of basketball.”

Interest in the program on campus has skyrocketed.

“Our games have been packed,” Broadous says. “We’ve broken attendance records by far. They’re going to have a send-off for us before we go to (the NWAACC Tournament). There’s a real nice buzz around campus.”

“It’s gratifying to see how happy everybody is,” Appleton says. “I played here before when we were terrible. We’ve changed the culture. People show up. They care. Before, nobody was talking about our games. Now people know this school has a basketball team, and the team is good. They actually want to come to the games.

“In two years, we went from 0-24 to a team that was co-champion in the division. It’s all about leadership from our coaches. We have some talented kids, but it’s not the first PCC team with talent. The leadership has taken us over the edge. We have a coaching staff that has the respect to draw kids here, and the respect to get kids who aren’t used to listening to buy in. You have to teach good habits and the things that make you learn how to win.”

Before a standing-room-only crowd on Feb. 19, the Panthers knocked off defending division champion Chemeketa 111-106 to clinch the first playoff berth in three decades as a program.

“That was a feeling I’ve never felt before,” Edmonson says. “There are no words that can describe it. I went around hugging my teammates and coaches. We all hugged our loved ones. It was like, ‘We did it.’ ”

“It was very emotional,” Turner says. “It was a good feeling to make history and have your name in the books for something you’ll always remember. Our names will always be there.”

The Panthers were disappointed to lose their final regular-season game 103-86 at Southwest Oregon, which cost them an outright division championship they share with SWOCC and Clackamas. PCC now turns it attention to the double-elimination NWAACC tourney at Kennewick.

“I think we have a great chance,” says Broadous, who works as program manager at the non-profit Metropolitan Family Services. “If we get Hines back (from a foot injury), we match up well with anybody in the tournament.

“We’re on a mission. We set our goal to win the division and advance to the tournament. We felt from the beginning we could do both, but one at a time. Now we want more, so here we go.

“College, even at this level — I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had as a coach.”

The 2013-14 Panthers have established a legacy.

“We’re doing stuff here that has never been done before,” Edmondson says. “What’s not to feel good about?”

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