Courtesy of Syreeta Abrams
Recently basketball season ended, and for some varsity player their high school athletic careers are over. According to the NCAA, less than 4% of men’s basketball players get to play college ball, and for the rest, basketball will become something to do in recreation with friends. Some of our seniors are going to pursue opportunities to play in college, but others will never suit up to play competitive basketball for a school again. So what has this all been about? The hours they spent at the gym have been sacrificed to become a better athlete, and to get the win, but as I’ve talked to players and their families this season, it was obvious that playing basketball is about more than just winning. It’s been about being part of a program that many of these kids started playing for when they were in kindergarten. The basketball team has become an extension of their family, and the lessons learned have been about more than just the game. For these seniors, the last twelve years have taught the athletes more than just how to shoot a free throw, and the lessons they’ve learned will extend far into their lives.
I spoke with West Linn’s senior basketball players, and their families, independent of each other, both of whom have been unaware of any conversation with the other. I asked each parent to reflect back on their son’s entire basketball career, and tell me how the sport has influenced their graduating athlete and their relationships.
Braden Olsen, senior guard, has been a part of three state championship teams for West Linn, and had a breakout season this year. After having multiple head turning games Olsen lead the state in assists this year. His parents didn’t reflect on the specific performances, but on his time growing up at the Les Schwab Invitational.
“Picking a favorite memory is like picking my favorite child,” Bill Olsen, Braden’s father said. “Our family moved to WL in 2006 when Braden was in 2nd grade. As a huge basketball junkie, and fan, I started to attend the Les Schwab Invitational consistently from 2007 through 2016. I would drag the kids out there and originally we sat underneath the basket. We would watch as many as four to six games in a day. We saw some great basketball, some special players, and really enjoyed our time together.”
“These are special memories because this is when Braden really came alive in the Portland basketball community,” Olsen’s said. He was a sophomore and looked like he was about 12. He captured the crowd’s attention, but it was not from his adolescence looks, but his play on the basketball court. He was fearless, ultra-competitive, and always made the right play. In the 2nd round we played a great Jefferson team, and Braden came off the bench proving as a catalyst in sparking the Lion victory. He finished shots at the rim and he hit a big three pointer. Next up for West Linn was Wheeler and Jaylen Brown. Braden dribbled the ball up the court against Brown with no fear and or hesitation. Anthony Mathis had a career game, we won and advanced to play Montverde and Ben Simmons. Braden played less in that final game, but was still an active contributor on the court making plays.”
“Braden missed the 2015 LSI due to injury,” Olsen said. “After attending the LSI for ten years, and seeing all the great players, I was so proud to see Braden make his mark. He lead the tournament in assists, close to tourney record, and was statistically in the top tier for points and steals too. He played with incredible energy and spirit against top tier talent. The one point loss to Clackamas cost him a spot on the all-tourney team, but his presence was felt so strongly he was given the Mr. Hustle Award.”
Injuries can impact a single season, however a broken hand doesn’t define Michael Hadeed’s impact on the program. Doing handshakes with players during introductions, and providing a spark off the bench, Hadeed has left a legacy. His parents highlighted Michael’s drive, dedication, and pride growing up in the community.
“Every time Michael went out on the court, he played with heart and pride for the team and the sport that he loved,” Suzy Hadeed, Michael’s mother said. “He worked very hard to have this chance to play as a senior, and he came through for the team whenever he was called upon. Michael has loved being part of the team and the Lions basketball program.”
Michael’s mother also reflected on senior night, where Hadeed played on his home court for the final time.
“Senior night was most memorable, not because of his season ending injury of a broken right hand, but because he walked between us out onto the court with such pride for his team, and the game itself,” Hadeed said. “With gratitude for the years of friendships, coaches, and support from family and fans, Michael gave his heart to basketball and his teammates.”
Scoring fourteen points in a single quarter, Rodney Hounshell propelled West Linn past North Medford in the quarterfinal round at the Chiles Center. Hounshell played lock-down defense all season, while providing a scoring option offensively as well. His parents spoke more on their son’s outstanding playoff performance.
“My favorite basketball memory about Rodney was during this year’s playoffs,” Syreeta Abrams, Rodney’s mother said. “When Rodney’s name was called to come up for the“Boys all-tournament second team” I was super proud of him. He really played hard during each game of the tournament, and it was nice to see him end his high school basketball career on such a high note. Each kid on the team was awesome, and Rodney enjoyed playing his last year in school with them.”
Accolades and accomplishments come with hard work and dedication, but Hounshell’s parents recognize the importance of basketball after the final buzzer sounds.
“Basketball has shaped Rodney is so many positive ways, which in turn has helped our relationship,” Abrams said. “It’s helped develop him into a social, healthy, young man that enjoys working in teams. Basketball reinforces lots of principals that I teach at home. Think about the team and not just yourself, sharing is caring, lift everyone up.”
With support from his family and a community, Aiden Scott has been able to overcome adversity facing opposing challenges head on. Scott’s parents talked to me about how basketball has made Aiden more resilient, and a harder worker.
“Aidan grew up going to the Les Schwab tournament every year over Christmas break,” Karen Scott, Aiden’s mother said. “He loved seeing some of the best high school players and teams in the country compete. Watching Aidan, his father and I have had the privilege of not only walking out on the floor, but actually playing in the tournament was incredible. Basketball has made Aiden mentally tough, and helped him to understand life doesn’t promise to be fair. It taught him to deal with what life throws at you with a good attitude and move on. Playing the game has taught him that it’s only basketball, which does not define him.”
Being selfless and a team first player, Aiden Scott has always been one to look out for teammates throughout his career. He’s thought of the team as a family, which in turn has brought each individual player closer down the stretch of their season.
“As a family it has given us the opportunity to rally around him and support him when he has been successful and when he has struggled,” Scott said. To encourage him and then to sit back and see him encourage his teammates. It has been fun to be able to come together as a family a couple of nights each week during the season just for Aidan. We’re so proud of him for always putting the good of the team before himself.”
A sharpshooter and three point marksman Nolan Bertain, started playing basketball after a friend showed him up when he was four years old. His parents, while it their hardwood floors didn’t appreciate it, put a ball in his hands from a young age.
“When Nolan was four he was on a play date, and the little boy he was with had a basketball,” Cheri Bertain, Nolan’s mother said. “The boy knew how to dribble the ball, but Nolan didn’t know how. I’ll never forget when he came home and asked me to buy him an ‘orange ball’ as he put it. For the next two weeks he dribbled on our hardwood floors which drove me crazy. When Nolan went back to the boy’s home, he could compete with the boy, and he’s been dreaming of playing college ball ever since he was a kid. I can’t wait!”
Student section chants come and go, but on senior night a ‘put Luther in chant’ filled the gym at West Linn High School. Jake Luther has left an impression on his parents, coaches, and teammates through his career as a high school basketball player.
“Our highlight of the season was not seeing Jake start on senior night, but what coach set up for Jake and a few others who were not going to start on the official senior night,” Becky Luther, Jake’s mother said. “It was so fun to see Jake’s excitement and planning, even down to what kind of handshake or other move he was going to make in the starting lineup. Jake had so much fun that night, doing what he loves best. His three pointer to end the half thrilled his teammates and fans. The crowd was going crazy for him, including some of his best friends and biggest fans of the season, who came to support him and the team and were never too shy to yell “put Luther in!”
Keeping a positive attitude, and rising above adversity has led Luther to become a good teammate, player and friend.
“No matter what adversity Jake went through this season, he maintained a positive attitude and rose above it. Something we can all learn from. He liked the kids and in spite of losing his spot on the court during his senior year, never lost sight of his dedication to the team and hard work. We are so impressed and in awe of Jake’s maturity and class and how he handled himself on and off of the court.”
Few players have a multiple highlight plays in a single season, but Khalid Thomas at 6’9 has literally risen above opposition and has made a name for himself statewide. Thomas’ Dad talked to me about Khalid’s experiences, and how basketball has opened up opportunities that they never thought possible.
“Basketball has been amazing for Khalid’s growing up,” Lethaniel Thomas, Khalid’s father said. “The game has afforded him opportunities that if not for basketball, might never have done. We’ve been able to travel and meet people who he can look up to for inspiration, which has been incredible for him. I will never forget when he had four dunks against Lakeridge at home. He has always impressed me with his leadership, and ability to be outside of himself. I’m so proud of him, and I’m very excited to see him go on to bigger and better things.”
Seasons extend for many players past high school basketball play. Ryan Schmid, senior guard, participated in Spokane Hoopfest during the summers in addition to playing with the school teams in season. Schmid was a member of the state championship winning football team, and has been a part of the lacrosse program as well.
“It’s hard to pick one favorite memory,” Jill Schmid, Ryan’s mother said. “It’s not so much one event as it’s the years of joy Ryan’s father and I have had watching Ryan play a sport he loved, with kids he has known since kindergarten and kids we met in middle school. Every season has been very special. From the early years when the kids wore colored wristbands learning how to play man to man, to the summers playing Spokane Hoopfest, to the TRL championships throughout middle school and high school….we have loved watching Ryan play. We’re so proud that he stuck with this through numerous shoulder dislocations, a couple of concussions, and two shoulder surgeries. Ryan, you will forever be our favorite basketball player.”
Every practice, game and team meeting Anthony Williams, team manager, made an impact both on and off the court. Williams drained a three point shot off a pass from freshman guard Micah Garrett; his mother shared her reaction and thoughts as Williams electrified the crowd with a corner three.
“My favorite memory was when the coach let Anthony play in one of the games,” Heidi Williams, Anthony’s mother said. “His teammates were passing him the ball, and Anthony sunk a 3 point shot off a fastbreak pass. It was so exciting to see his team and all the student section go wild and cheer for him. That was a very special moment for me. Whenever I think about moment it puts a huge smile on my face and makes me so proud to be part of such a great community.”
A 6th grader, a coach who believed in him, and a miraculous play that brought tears to his father’s eyes. Nathan Dombrow, senior guard, is known for hustling up and down the court getting, being the first player back on defense. Dombrow has made himself into an incredible shooter from beyond the arc, but an even better teammate and friend.
“Some of the fond memories I have of Nathan’s basketball career include him leading the JV team in scoring and FG%, him scoring 17 points against Jefferson’s varsity team in the Fall League, or his first windmill dunk in practice,” Joel Dombrow, Nathan’s father said. “But what I remember the most is something that happened while coaching him in 6th grade.
We were in the middle of a tight game against Lake Oswego, and unfortunately, at halftime I had to leave the game to go to work. So another dad who I was coaching with (also a friend of mine) Mark Russell, took the reins.
Maybe 45 minutes later, while at work, I received a phone call from my son. He said, “Dad, guess what? The game went into double-overtime!! With about 3 seconds left, Lake Oswego was up by 2 points and we fouled them. After missing both free throws, we grabbed the rebound and immediately coach Mark called a timeout. We were still down by 2 with now only 1.8 seconds left…with the full length of the court to go.
“So coach Mark drew up a play for me! I caught the ball near the far free throw line, took 2 dribbles and shot the ball from beyond half court just before the buzzer sounded. And guess what? I made it, dad!!!” *tears*
Of the countless games that I’ve watched Nathan play in, I happened to have missed THAT game…but, I’m glad I did…because I probably wouldn’t have drawn up the play that Mark did for my son. And even though I didn’t get to see his double-overtime half-court buzzer-beater, I’ll never forget the sound of his voice and the tears of joy on the other end of that phone call. After all, that’s what youth sports is about. Not the coaches. Not the wins and losses. Not the swag. Not even the rings. It’s about a 6th grader, who in a miraculous moment had a coach who believed in him and made a play that helped him to believe in himself.
“I made it, dad!!!”
Coach V’s Remarks
Coach Eric Viuhkola won four consecutive state championships before retiring to spend more time with his family. Molding these seniors into both the players, and young men they are, Viuhkola had this to say about this year’s graduating class.
“This year’s 2017 class is a group of young men who will be fondly remembered,” Viuhkola said. They’re a collective group of extremely talented young men, who accomplished and sacrificed a great deal. The finish isn’t what they hoped, but I witnessed a group of young men who showed great growth and gave unbelievable effort in their quest for a state championship, but sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way. My belief is that these impressive young men will realize it’s the journey (good and bad) that is what’s really special not the destination. They will all have a friend for life from Coach V.”
For readers that have not been around the West Linn Basketball program, the principal of family is what led the Lions to a record tying four state titles. Both family at home, and family as a team. Relying on the community for support, and the roar from the student body, this graduating class has accomplished much more than just success on the court.