Athletic Grant High boys basketball team back as contender
The Grant Generals are elite again in what looks to be a deep Portland Interscholastic League boys basketball field.
Grant returns several key players from the squad that made it to the Oregon School Activities Association Class 6A fourth-place last season, after having to open the state tournament at Chiles Center against eventual champion Jefferson.
The Generals kicked off their 2017-18 on Friday night with a big rally and victory at home over Clackamas, 76-60.
The Cavaliers raced to a 30-11 lead before Grant went to a full-court press that turned the tide and took advantage of a Clackamas team with some key players fresh off the football field and last week's state title victory over South Medford.
With an 17-3 run in the second quarter, Grant quickly got back into Friday's game — the Generals' first in their temporary home on the Marshall Campus while the Northeast school undergoes a two-year renovation.
"The kids played a little nervous in the beginning," Grant coach Robert Key said. "Seeing other people play two or three games already, these kids have been itching to play.
"But I just thought once we turned the pressure up like we did, the momentum would swing eventually. Every timeout, I was saying, 'It's just a matter of time, fellas.'"
Boy, did it. Grant got to within 33-28 by the end of the first half and then kept its foot on the gas. Clackamas, which barely lost to Jeff in last year's 6A championship game, wasn't in condition to keep up.
"I thought I saw some signs of fatigue (in the Cavs)," Key said.
Junior guard Aaron Deloney (23 points) and 6-8 senior post Kelton Samore (19) led the Generals in scoring, but they're just part of an athletic rotation that goes at least nine deep.
It wasn't a perfect game for Grant, which went 5 of 15 at the free-throw line.
But it was a winning start, with the second of many tests set for 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at home against Tigard.
"I've got a really good, solid group of kids that like each other, play the right way and enjoy the game," Key says.
In the PIL, Grant will have to be wary of more than Jefferson. Lincoln is a contender and 2-0. Madison is off to a 3-0 start. Roosevelt is 2-1. Cleveland could be in the mix for the state playoffs as well.
Down the food chain perhaps a notch, Franklin now has veteran coach Scott Aker at the helm, Wilson is reloading under former Cleveland coach Craig Cokely, and Benson has improved since last season.
Grant is going to be highly ranked, but Key says his message to the players is to not look at that. "Look at how we can become a state champion, play every game like it's your last, and take one game at a time," he says.
Looks like San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard will be back in plenty of time for the Spurs' Dec. 20 visit to Portland. Leonard, who has been out all season with an injured quadriceps, is expected to make his 2017-18 NBA debut Tuesday against Dallas.
MARINERS' NEXT MOVE?
Seattle not only didn't finish first in the sweepstakes for Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, but the pitcher-outfielder chose to play for an AL West rival, the Los Angeles Angels.
The M's were one of seven "finalists" for Ohtani. Now they'll have to face him 19 times next season. And the Angels figure to at least be one of Seattle's many competitors for a wild-card playoff spot, assuming the World Series champion Houston Astros continue to lead the division.
The only consolation for the Mariners is the $3.5 million they accumulated to offer Ohtani. Seattle can still spend it, but only on international free agents under age 25. The Seattle Times lists Cuban outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez, shortstop Jelfry Marte, third baseman/shortstop Yenci Pena and right-hander Juan Contreras as among the top possibilties.
MEANWHILE, IN OAKLAND
With a Portland group still working behind the scenes to get the city into Major League Baseball, the news out of Oakland this past week wasn't the best for fans of the Athletics. If the A's are going to stay in Oakland, they may have to settle for a remake of their current Oakland Coliseum home instead of building a ballpark close to downtown. A plan to put a new baseball stadium near Laney College fell through this week. Oakland officials, including Mayor Libby Schaaf, say they are determined to keep the Athletics. But with each setback, another outcome remains possible.
TORONTO FC WINS MLS CUP
Outside of Toronto, we're betting that the happiest soccer fans following the MLS Cup final were Portlanders. Because soccer, unlike football and baseball, is a sport where Seattle is the rival.
Toronto FC dominated the match against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, avenging last season's loss on penalty kicks to Seattle with a comprehensive 2-0 win.
Folks who shrug and/or joke about soccer, we hear you laughing at that description.
Yet that's exactly what happened as Toronto FC came at Seattle in waves. If not for the strong game from Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei — saves — the score mght truly have reflected the one-sided match.
In the big picture, though, we wonder if rematches like Saturday's might not become the new norm. MLS likes to celebrate its parity. The reality is different. Since Portland joined the league in 2011, five clubs have won the Cup. But the L.A. Galaxy won three of the seven titles.
The Galaxy are the most valuable MLS franchise in 2017, according to Forbes magazine. The Sounders and Toronto FC are a close second and third. Anyone see a correlation?
The good news for Timbers fans? The Timbers are one of the "haves" in this equation. Forbes ranks the Timbers as the sixth most-valuable MLS franchise in 2017, and reports that their $44 million in revenue is fourth behind — you guessed it — only the Galaxy, Seattle and Toronto.
Still, it will be interesting to see how Portland keeps up. With the smallest (and, let's be honest, oldest) stadium among the marquee clubs, will the Timbers be able to keep pace? The addition next season of LA FC — with a sparkling new stadium — on the heels of Atlanta's record-setting attendance in its debut season, will add to the challenge of competing on the field and off.
And Trail Blazers fans know that having a passionate owner willing to spend money doesn't guarantee even occasional success.
In the meantime, we congratulate Toronto FC. Having posted the most regular-season points in MLS history and won the MLS Cup, Toronto can rightly boast to having the best season in the league's 22 seasons.
Nick Symmonds, the longtime 800-meter star with Northwest roots, is scheduled to compete in his first 26.2-mile race on Sunday, the Honolulu Marathon. Symmonds retired as an 800 runner after this year's U.S. outdoor championships. He won six national titles and made two Olympic teams at that distance. He admits he hasn't trained optimally for Sunday's run and won't try to win, but — in a very Nick Symmonds way of life — just wants to have fun with the experience.
• The Seattle Seahawks will try to stay on the winning track in Florida as they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at 1:25 p.m. PT (FOX 12).
The Seahawks (8-4) are chasing the Los Angeles Rams (9-3) for first place in the NFC West. The Rams play host to Philadelphia (10-2) at the same time on Sunday.
Seattle is on pace for at least a wild-card playoff spot, but there is no room for slippage.
Jacksonville and the Tennessee Titans are 8-4 and tied for first in the AFC South.
• Oregon State's women's basketball team, ranked 17th and 19th in the national polls, plays host to San Jose State at 2 p.m. OSU is 5-2; the Spartans are 2-6.
At Chiles Center, the University of Portland women (4-4) take on Boise State (4-3) at 2 p.m.