Oakland winning with offense, defense and depth
OAKLAND — Those outside the Oakland High boys basketball program probably weren’t expecting big things for the 2018-19 season.
After all, the Oakers lost seven seniors off last year’s team that shared the Mountain View Conference regular season title, placed fifth at the Class 2A state tournament and finished 25-5 overall. Four of those seniors received all-conference honors, including MVC player of the year Cameron Benzel who received first-team all-state honors.
Head coach Jeff Clark wasn’t sure what to expect from a team with no returning starters.
But the returning cast had other ideas.
The Oakers — featuring seven seniors and eight juniors on their varsity roster — have established themselves as one of the top clubs in the state again. Oakland, No. 4 in the OSAA 2A power rankings and No. 4 in the coaches’ poll, is 18-2 overall and 8-1 in Central Valley Conference play.
The Oakers weren’t on top of their game Friday night, though, losing 56-52 to East Linn Christian in overtime at the Nut House. Oakland saw its 10-game winning streak come to an end. The other loss this season came 44-41 to Kennedy at home in a nonconference contest on Dec. 21.
The Oakers are tied with Jefferson (11-5, 8-1) for first place in the CVC race with five contests remaining. One of them is a road game at Jefferson.
“It’s a good game for us to learn from,” Clark said after Friday’s loss.
Defense has been a staple of Clark’s teams over the years, but this is one of his better offensive clubs. The Oakers have connected on 136 3-point field goals and are averaging just under 66 points a game.
Oh, the man-to-man defense is fine, too, allowing an average of 45.8 points.
Clark, a 1988 graduate of Sutherlin, usually has the Oakers peaking at the right time. He’s compiled a 521-154 career record in 25 years at Oakland, winning 2A state championships in 2000, ’06 and ’13. They’ve advanced to the state tournament 13 times under his watch, coming home with 11 trophies.
“They’ve really come together well,” Clark said of his latest edition. “As a team they have a really high basketball IQ and that’s something that’s played out well for us. We’re very unselfish on the court and that’s helped lead us to a lot of success.”
Colton Brownson, a 6-foot-3 junior wing, paces the Oakers with 18 points a game and is shooting 68 percent from the field. He’s also averaging 7 rebounds, 2.5 blocked shots and 2.5 steals.
The rest of the starting five includes 5-11 senior wing Jacob Brooksby (8.5 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists), 6-2 junior point guard Noah Strempel (8 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2.5 steals), 6-4 senior post Austin Madden (7 points, 7 rebounds) and 6-1 senior post Ethan Roberson (4 points, 3 rebounds).
Junior Triston Mask (12 points) is the sixth man and leads the team with 57 3-pointers. Senior Hunter Reynolds (3.5 points, 5 rebounds), and juniors Chandler Miller and Zach Cummings are also in the playing rotation.
“I wouldn’t say we expected to be (18-2), but we wanted to be,” Brownson said. “Knowing that we lost seven seniors, we wanted to come out and show just because we (the returners) were younger last year we’ve matured a lot. We wanted to be able to play as well as last year.
“We’re playing as a team. Everyone’s willing to give up their own shots for everyone else to get more. We’re a pretty decent 3-point shooting team, but when the 3s aren’t falling we’re willing to attack the rim.”
The Oakers are shooting 45 percent from the field overall, including 33 percent from 3-point range. Twelve players have made at least one 3-pointer.
“Honestly, no, I’m not surprised with what we’ve done,” said Brooksby, a left-hander who returned to Oakland for his senior year after playing at 6A Roseburg as a junior. “Everybody has worked super hard and put us in a good spot. We’ve all been ready to step up.
“It’s our unselfishness. We’re always willing to make the extra pass. We’re not taking many selfish shots, because we’re looking for the smart basketball play. It’s great — when somebody’s having an off night somebody else is always going to step up.”
Roberson is one who typifies the Oakers’ work ethic, always willing to take a charge on the defensive end.
“Our leadership roles in this program have been very good this year,” Roberson said. “We’re not really strict and make everybody do certain things, we let them feel their own thing and when someone gets down we pick them up. Everyone is a contributor.
“I don’t think the (returning) seniors necessarily had an expectation this year. We wanted to prove ourselves since we lost a lost of seniors, and want to fight and be as strong as we possibly can. I think we’re capable of doing whatever we put our minds to.”
So far, a solid performance by the Oakers even with the setback against East Linn Christian.
“An interesting point for this group is we’re so much better defensively than I expected us to be,” Clark said. “We’re not near as physical as we’ve been in the past, but we’re much longer and have really good instincts. We force a lot of issues with our defense.
“I don’t know if the expectations have changed. The goal is always the same — compete for a league championship, get a home (playoff) game to go to Pendleton and play for a trophy on Saturday. We’re still trying to go to work every day and get better.”