Shane Hoffmann's guide to Oregon's high school basketball state tournament
Shane's been off freelancing a bunch of hoops content this winter. So this spring, we take advantage.
PORTLAND — It’s been a quiet winter from me here over at The Corridor. And no, not because Tyson has threatened to stop paying me. In fact, he probably wouldn't have minded a few more stories from me these past few months.
Editor’s note: He’s right.
My move to Portland is, at last, complete. I’m over in Northeast. Quite North actually… and… quite East. It’s a bit out of the way, but a spacious place in a quiet neighborhood has made up for the less-than-ideal distance.
With football season in the rearview, I’ve engrossed myself in the high school basketball scene, covering locals stories and games for SBLive and The Oregonian. It’s been a blast. I get more fulfillment out of covering hoops than anything else, and there’s something so refreshing about going back down to the high school level to do so.
So with the state tournament — comprised of the top eight boy’s and girl’s 6A teams remaining after two rounds of the playoffs — set to kick off this afternoon at the Chiles Center, Tyson asked me to use some of my newfound knowledge to prep you on a few things to watch for, should you stumble your way onto the University of Portland’s campus over the course of the next few days.
A tall task
The Lincoln boys program has been on the periphery of the Portland Interscholastic League for some years, but after they became the only boy’s program in the state to hire a female coach, handing the keys to Heather Seely-Roberts two seasons ago, things have taken a turn.
The Cardinals came one game from making the state tournament in Seely-Roberts’ first season last year, but lost to their burgeoning conference rival Cleveland Warriors. This year, the nascent Cardinals punched their ticket to the tournament by taking down those same Warriors.
Now, they fancy themselves contenders — and it all starts with their size.
Seely-Roberts brought her two sons with her to Lincoln. This year as seniors, Moroni (6-foot-6) and Malachi (6-foot-8) have been the stars in a lineup that also features the 6-foot-10 Graham Eikenberry at center. They have another 6-foot-10 center off the bench with Evan Heisler.
That’s rare size in this state.
And, for what it’s worth, Eric Viuhkola — the former West Linn coach who guided the Lions to four straight state titles between 2013-2016, before stepping down after last season — sees Lincoln as the biggest threat to the No.1, Jackson Shelstad-led Lions.
“We want to win the state title,” Seely-Roberts said. “We have nine seniors. We have a lot of talent. And we’re one of the four or five teams that have a possibility.”
Lincoln plays a full-court press on defense and uses an inside-out approach on offense. You’ll even see the Seely-Roberts brothers handle the ball and initiate the offense on the perimeter. It’s a unique watch, and should the No. 4 Cardinals take down No. 5 Gresham — a high-flying team full of dynamic guards — you might even be privy to another sight like this:
Underseeded and unperturbed
West Linn’s been a shoo-in title favorite some months now on the boy’s side, but on the girl’s side, there's been more parity.
Six of the eight teams that made it to the Chiles Center last season returned significant pieces and figured to be repeat contenders. Five out of those six are back in the fold this year. It should make for quite the quarterfinals, and beyond. In my eyes, there’s one matchup which tops them all: No. 4 Beaverton vs. No. 5 Clackamas.
Let’s break it down.
Clackamas started five freshmen at times last season, yet the green group found immense success with the nation’s top 2025 recruit Jazzy Davidson leading the way. That is, until they ran head first into Beaverton in the semifinals, losing 41-28 to the eventual state champions.
The Beavers didn’t just win, they beat the Cavaliers in “every phase of the game,” Clackamas senior Eliza Buerk said.
Those freshmen are sophomores now and they have senior point guard Rhyan Mogel running the offense again after she missed last season with a torn ACL. The Cavaliers edged out the Beavers 42-38 in the second game of this season. Then went on to go 23-0 vs. the state of Oregon, including a 47-29 win over No. 1 Jesuit and a pair of wins vs. No. 6 Barlow (50-42 and 75-48.)
So why is Clackamas the No. 5 seed? That’s what coach Korey Landolt is trying to figure out. She scheduled aggressively this year to avoid this exact outcome. Nevertheless, it’s added some fuel to the fire for her young roster.
Clackamas is the most talented group left. Whether or not that results in a title, we’ll see. But the Cavaliers’ quarterfinals matchup has potential to be the best game of the entire tournament. Seriously.
The local prodigy
Now if you follow local hoops at any level, you’ve likely heard of Shelstad over at West Linn. The point guard is the state’s best player. You’ll find no debate there.
Just when it looked like he might go the prep school route and relegate his local ties to the back-burner, he locked in a commitment to Oregon and stayed at West Linn, even after his longtime childhood coach Viuhkola stepped down.
He made national headlines when he won MVP of the Les Schwab Invitational tournament at the end of December, leading West Linn to wins over out-of-state powerhouses. Ever since, he’s spent his weeks toying with in-state defenders who always seem one step behind him.
“He’s gonna go to Oregon and start for them next year,” South Medford head coach James Wightman told me last month. “He's unbelievable. He might be playing in the [NBA] in, you know, four years. He’s 6-foot, he’s not 6-foot-2 like Payton Pritchard. But he’s more athletic than Pritchard was.”
Shelstad’s worth the price of admission, alone.
I mentioned that group of six girls teams earlier. It was a rock solid hierarchy nearly all season long — Jesuit, Clackamas, Beaverton, Barlow, South Medford, Benson. (Benson was under-seeded at No. 11, drew Barlow in the second round of the playoffs, and lost 60-56 in an unfortunately-premature matchup.)
But there always had to be two more teams, and in this case, three, given Benson’s departure. The question was whether or not those teams had any chance to blossom into real threats?
No. 10 West Salem has some intriguing pieces, but is running into a buzzsaw of a matchup against No. 2 South Medford. No. 8 Willamette has a six-deep sophomore class, five of which start for them, which oozes potential. Future potential.
That leaves Tualatin.
The No. 3 Timberwolves don’t possess a big name star like their contending contemporaries, but at 24-2, they seem very real. Tualatin took No. 1 Jesuit to the wire in February, ultimately falling 35-31.
The Timberwolves boast the state’s best defense, allowing under 30 points per game this season. They run a 2-3 zone which coach Wes Pappas implemented at Tigard, before he hopped over to Tualatin four years ago.
The inspiration for the defense came from watching Syracuse run its zone in the early 2000s, back when Jim Boeheim’s Orange played in the Big East. Ever since, it’s become Pappas’ passion project to craft the scheme into the most frustrating matchup state-wide.
He and his team drew Barlow. The Bruins’ backcourt of Kennedie Shuler (Oregon State commit) and Annie Koenig is among the state’s best. They led Barlow to an unexpected run to the title last year. And as a team, they shoot the hell out of the ball. Three-point shooting has been known to break zone defenses open.
But this isn’t your typical zone.
Names to watch
A handful of other eye-catching players who haven’t already been mentioned:
Sofia Bell, Jesuit, senior: Bell, an Oregon commit, transferred from St. Mary’s midway through last year. The 6-foot-1 combo guard is the daughter of Greg Bell, who played for the Oregon men’s basketball program in the 80′s.
Jaden Steppe, Tualatin, junior: Steppe’s a legit Division I talent. He’s 6-foot-8, and while he doesn't mind banging with the big boys down low, he can take defenders off the dribble on the perimeter. He’s got a beautiful jump shot.
Josiah Lake, Tualatin, senior: Lake was on the all-tournament team last year after he and his backcourt mates led Tualatin to a state title. He was the only returning starter and he’s been the lifeblood of the Timberwolves this season with his above-the-rim leaping ability and NBA-level 3-point range.
Lainey Spear, Beaverton, senior: Spear, a University of Portland commit, was the state’s player of the year last season. She’s 6-foot-2, but moves like a guard and is hellbent on capturing back-to-back titles.
Donovyn Hunter, South Medford senior: Hunter, an Oregon State commit flies under the radar down in Medford. It doesn’t help that a pair of ACL injuries sidelined her for a majority of her career. She’s finally back to full health and while she can score with the best of them, she’s become a defensive menace.
Jalen Atkins, Barlow, sophomore: The Bruin boys are known for their scoring and Atkins is their go-to man. He’s hit multiple game-winners this season and despite his youth has announced himself as one of the state’s top bucket-getters with his methodical pace.
Brayden Boe, Mountainside, sophomore: Boe is a tall, 6-foot-4, guard who broke out this season, leading the Metro League in both scoring and assists. He’ll face Atkins and Barlow in what could be an incredible shootout.
Esyah Pippa-White, Gresham, senior: First-year coach Corey Lockhart has taken the chains off Gresham. His players flow freely and dynamically and it starts with Pippa-White, who’s been one of the state’s top names for years and grew up playing next to Shelstad in middle school.
Olivia Poulivaati, Tualatin, senior: Poulivaati anchors that Timberwolves’ zone. Her athletic maturity has taken it from a good defense, to far-and-away the state’s most elite, statistically. You’ll find her right in the heart of it, down low.
The state tournament brackets and schedules can be found here.
— Shane Hoffmann
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