The lion kings

USA Today ranks men’s basketball number one in the country


Joseph Murphy

Winning the Les Schwab Invitational, Jackson Shelstad (left) and Adrian Mosley (right) placed on the Les Schwab Invitational first-team.

Prior to this month, an Oregon high school men’s basketball team had only been ranked on the national level once. This is no longer the case. The men’s basketball team rolled past ranked teams like Sierra Canyon, California, and Duncanville, Texas, to win the Les Schwab Invitational (LSI), something that had previously never been done by an Oregon school. Sierra Canyon was ranked in the top 20 and Duncanville was ranked first. After this unexpected success the team found themselves ranked in the top 20 nationally by various ranking systems like SportsCenter NEXT, a platform via Instagram that highlights top high school athletics. A couple weeks later, USA Today Sports announced that the team had been crowned number one in the country. This came as a surprise as the team had gone down to California that weekend and were handed their first loss of the season. The announcement was released before the loss, so until the new rankings come out the team will hold the number one spot. 

On Jan 13, Mark Hamper shoots a shot vs. the Jesuit Crusaders. They won the game 71-52 to maintain their national ranking. (Joseph Murphy)

Mark Hamper, senior, is a starter on the team and plays center. After winning a state championship with the football team, Hamper is aiming to repeat his success with the basketball team. 

“We’re always all in on what we’re doing out there,” Hamper said. “It just makes it easy.” 

Hamper contributed to the success of the team at the LSI and ended up winning the “Mr. Hustle Award” at the end of the tournament. 

Knowing that they were going to compete against elite players who are committed to various Division One universities, the team went into the games with nothing to lose. 

“We had nothing to lose playing those big teams,” Hamper said. “Just play with no regrets, just leave everything out there.” 

This season brought new faces to the team, new players and a new head coach, Robert Key. Key brought a new kind of mentality to the team and has put all of his trust into the players. Hamper has given a lot of credit to the coaching staff as they’re definitely part of the success of this team. 

“Coach Key is always believing in us and just kind of letting the players play,” Hamper said. “He has a lot of trust in us and what we do out there.” 

Now that the team is ranked first in the nation, they have even more of a target on their backs and are a group that other squads are looking to take down. 

“We want to be hunters instead of the ones being hunted,” Hamper said. “We’re the top dogs and we know everyone’s gonna come at us with a little more energy than the rest.” 

Hamper, Jackson Shelstad, senior, and Adrian Mosley, senior, have been friends and played together for much of their basketball careers. Along with Coach Key, Mosley is also new to the team this season.

“Me and [Shelstad] have always been boys and I just felt it was time for a change [from Grant],” Mosley said. “I thought this would be the best fit. What people don’t know is I grew up with a lot of kids in the area out here so it made it feel like home still being around them.”

The team goes through the tunnel, preparing to face Jesuit, on Jan 13. They entered the game as the top team in the nation, according to USA Today Sports. (Joseph Murphy)

“We’ve been really good friends since fifth grade,” Hamper said. “But Sam [Leavitt] and Nick [DiGuilio] are new so they’re just trying to get to know all of the guys but I mean the team chemistry is building every week.” 

Going into regular season play, the team has taken the number one spot in the state as well as the number one spot in the country. Even with the loss down in California, Hamper knows that the spot they currently hold is well deserved. 

“Being ranked number one is no doubt a reflection of how we’ve been playing,” Hamper said. “We have put hours of hard work into this.”

Next fall, Hamper will be playing Division One football at the University of Idaho and will be taking assets that he’s learned from his time playing sports at West Linn with him to the field. 

“There’s plenty of successful guys on our team that have learned these values and are going to take them and use them in the real world,” Hamper said. “Hopefully they will [have] equal success later in life.”