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Posted On: 11/27/18 12:00 PM
The 2018-19 season is upon us and it’s time to take a look at the top leagues in the state. We continue our previews with the Portland Interscholastic League – best known as the PIL. Will Jefferson head coach Pat Strickland (pictured above) be all smiles in March?
It was a return to the glory days of the PIL. Jefferson and Grant more than lived up to their billing as top teams and were at the top of the standings and state rankings all season long. Their three meetings during the regular season were sold-out, packed-house affairs that the league hadn’t seen in a very long time. The league wasn’t just Jeff/Grant though as it was a dogfight for spots three through seven and at the conclusion of league play, only two games separated all five of those teams – and all five made the post-season. Of those, Lincoln was the one that won both games to join Jefferson and Grant in the state tournament, where the Cardinals finished in third place. The entire concluded with an epic fourth meeting between Jefferson and Grant, where the Generals finally got on the board in the most important game of the season to capture their first state title in 10 years.
Changes for 2018-19
There are no changes to the nine-team PIL due to summer classification and districting.
State Tournament Threats
Jefferson – The Democrats were favored to win last season but couldn’t beat Grant for a fourth time – and head coach Pat Strickland is still salty about the loss. But as usually is the case with the Demos, it’s simply a case of reloading and some younger players will step right in for Jefferson – especially in the frontcourt. Gone are Kamaka Hepa (Texas) and Khalil Chatman, but in come sophomores Nate Rawlins-Kibonge and Kam Robinson, both of whom are coming off of big summers of development. Future Washington Husky Marcus Tsohonis is back and is flanked by senior wings Keylin Vance and Jalen Brown, and others such as senior guard Trevon Richmond (transfer from Roosevelt), senior post Jonathan Nchekwube (transfer from Churchill), sophomore forward Rayven Turner, and stud freshmen Lamar Washington and Trejon Williams provide Strickland with the deepest and most talented team in the state. About the only “problem” the Demos might have is how Strickland will keep everyone happy with playing time, but as he jokes, “it’s a good problem to have”.
Grant – The defending champs lose their entire frontline to graduation: Damon “Froggy” Hickok (football walk-on at Oregon), Darius Guinn (Central Wyoming JC), and Kelton Samore (Bridgton Prep). But head coach Robert Key does have back two of the best and most experienced guards in the state in Vermont signee Aaron Deloney and Ty Rankin. Both of them improved on their bodies and their games over the summer on the prestigious EYBL circuit with the Rose City Rebels AAU squad. The Generals also add sharp-shooting Emanuel Steward, a transfer from Benson, for even more firepower from the outside. Varsity newcomers Laquandre “Tiny” Taylor and Eric Fraser will have an immediate impact as well, and Key also has an extremely talented freshman class that will contribute. Grant will play hard and fast and rely on their perimeter shooting this season since they have no real size, but their speed and athleticism will be better than just about anyone else in the state.
Cleveland – It is year two of Dondrale Campbell at the helm of the Warriors and he’s happy with the program’s growth. This year’s team will be hard nosed and it all starts with senior wing Joey Rodrick and senior forward Jacob Bolger, both of whom are receiving significant small college recruiting interest. Johnny Carr is another senior with skill and experience and there are a whole host of younger players who will provide depth for Campbell and crew.
Benson – Head coach Earl Clark likes his team to operate off the radar and the Techmen may very well sneak up on people this season. Junior Cobee Crawford should have a big junior campaign but he won’t be doing it alone as seniors such as Jaylen Russell, Sean Calhoun, Dreyden St. James, Robert Barber, and James Kuss give Clark some of the most experience in the league. The development of sophomore big man Cameron Andre could be a wildcard as well.
Lincoln – The Cardinals lose a lot off of last year’s third place team, notably unanimous First Team All-Tournament honoree Bryce Sloan (Cal State San Marcos) and big man Aidan Anastas, and expected returnee Max Weissflog decided not to play this season. But head coach Pat Adelman has a system that has earned respect of his peers and a group of hard-working blue collar guys led by seniors Daniel Kovalev and Ben Jeffers (who transferred back from Lake Oswego), who will have the Cardinals in contention. 6-foot-8 senior big man Kai Wilson is raw but could surprise.
Roosevelt – Second year head coach Yusuf Leary loses a lot of experience but brings back a hungry group of young players who will run and press to create havoc on the basketball floor. Junior Jayoni Moore leads the way for the Roughriders and formerly unknowns such as Cole Tindall, Chris Turner-Ping, and Malik Kelley will step into bigger roles. Flenard Grigsby and sophomore Jonah Williams could be pleasant surprises.
Franklin – Veteran head coach Scott Aker is in his second year in his second stint at the school and has the league’s premier facilities to work with. Senior Taylor Pomeroy will lead the way along with emerging junior big man Tucker Pellicci, but some younger players such as Cayden Wagner will have to step up if the Quakers are to challenge for a post-season berth.
Madison – The answer to the question is “Yes”, senior guard Tre Ratcliff is at Madison and will be playing this season. He’s arguably the top athlete in the league. Other than that, the only other guy with any kind of experience for the Senators is sharpshooting Tommy Pham. There may not be much else but head coach Chuck Matthews does a tremendous job year after year of getting the most out of what he has on his roster and don’t be surprised to see the Senators pull off an upset or two.
Wilson – It’s another year of building for head coach Craig Cokley as the Trojans lack experience. Wilson does have some size to contend with as Mason Lommen, Asad Dahir, and Grayson Wright all measure 6-foot-4 or taller.
Player of the Year
Marcus Tsohonis, Jefferson. The returning 6A state player of the year has the opportunity to join a select group of repeat POY winners (Fred Jones, Kevin Love, Payton Pritchard) and we think the Washington signee will get it done as he’s the best player on the best team in the state. Whether it’s scoring himself, setting up teammates, or doing all the little things – Tsohonis pretty much does it all on the basketball floor. It’s not a total shoo-in but barring any kind of injury, Tsohonis is the odds-on favorite to win the award.
All-League Predictions: Tsohonis; Aaron Deloney, Grant; Ty Rankin, Grant; Cobee Crawford, Benson; Joey Rodrick, Cleveland
Laquandre Taylor, Grant. Taylor comes to Grant from Jefferson and as the Generals tallest player at almost 6-foot-5, he will be counted on for big man duties – although in truth he’s truly a guard with natural ball-handling and passing skills. His length will create some problems for defenders both inside and outside and his ability to rebound and then take the ball coast-to-coast for finishes for himself or teammates will be a key component in the style Grant plays this season.
Overall, the league is not as strong as last season – but last year was quite special. Jefferson is far and away the favorite to not only win the league title but capture the state championship, and while it’s hard to say it’s title or bust for the Demos that’s pretty much the mentality head coach Pat Strickland has for his team this year. Grant is a rock-solid second in both the league and the state and the defending champs will be a hard out to the bitter end. The third automatic bid from the league is wide open between Benson, Cleveland, Lincoln, and Roosevelt and it will be a dogfight for positioning all season long. Look for three of those four to quality for the post-season and perhaps whoever does finish third to be a sleeper pick to make the state tournament along with Jefferson and Grant. A repeat appearance of both Jeff and Grant in the finals would not be a surprise to anybody but this time, the Demos getting their revenge and coming back out on top as state champs.