Trio of Metro contenders prepared for Les Schwab Invite
Since its origination in 1996, the Les Schwab Invitational has stood alone as one of, if not the premier boys basketball holiday tournament in the country.
Every year, the LSI organizers bring in some of the top programs from around the nation to compete against Oregon's best, giving many of the local powers a chance to test themselves against some of the preeminent players and coaches they otherwise wouldn't see during the regular season.
Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Jaylen Brown, Marvin Bagley III and Michael Porter Jr. are just some the household names that have come through Liberty High School the past couple of seasons and put on spectacular displays of individual brilliance on their way collegiate stardom and ultimately the NBA.
Better yet, those superstars often play on teams that are nationally ranked and stocked with impressive supporting casts who go on to Division One prominence themselves. The mix of star power, headlining talent and super competitive games creates an electric three-day event that frankly is unmatched.
This year is no different. Three out-of-state powers who will show up to vie with Oregon's elite — the Crespi Celts of Encino, California, the Mater Dei Monarchs from Santa Ana, California, and the Oak Hill Academy Warriors of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.
Oak Hill is a six-time LSI champion, and under longtime head coach Steve Smith, has won nine national championships and finished as runner-up seven times. Mater Dei, in its second LSI appearance, is led by longtime coach Gary McKnight and has won 34 league titles, 16 Southern Section Regional titles, 22 CIF Southern Section titles, 11 state titles, and one national championship.
Crespi is making its LSI debut this season, with head coach Russell White entering his 12th season after previously leading the Celts to state titles in 2015 and 2016.
The LSI is especially fond of the Metro League and the teams it produces each year. Southridge, who is 6-0 to start the season and is No. 2 in the OSAA Class 6A power rankings, Beaverton and Jesuit will all suit up at the 2017 LSI — which opens Dec. 27 and continues through Dec. 30 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
Southridge starts off the LSI by facing defending 6A state runner-up Clackamas in the first round on Dec. 27 at 8:30 p.m. With many of the Cavaliers coming off a long football season that ended just short of winning the state title, Clackamas has gotten off to a 0-3 start. Still, the Cavs bring back seven players off last year's squad that won 24 games and rolled to a Mt. Hood Conference crown. The Skyhawks are stacked with a roster that has skill, size, versatility and an up-and-down style of play that should be a crowd favorite at the LSI. Senior post Filip Fullerton is a 6-foot-8 post with dexterous ability and plenty of two-way promise. And he's flanked by a number of athletic shooters like Bo Quinlan, Brock Henry and Zach Galvin, amongst others who can fill it up from deep and lock in defensively.
What hangs in the balance for this all-Oregon first round clash is a second round matchup with Oak Hill, a widely renowned juggernaut that's produced dozens of college and pro players under Smith. David McCormack (Kansas), Will Richardson (Oregon), Keldon Johnson (Kentucky) and Keyontae Johnson (Florida) pilot the D1 factory that's currently No. 3 in the MaxPreps national poll.
Southridge, a team with state title aspirations, couldn't ask for a better trial than Oak Hill. It's a shot to run with recruits who are ranked in the top-100 in the country by essentially every credible recruiting service out there and see how they stack up individually and as a team. For a squad that missed the state tournament last year, getting Oak Hill for the last game of the blockbuster evening session on Dec. 28 in front what would be a capacity crowd in a dynamic environment would be an invaluable experience. All that said, Southridge can't get caught looking ahead with Clackamas up first on the docket. But, beat the Cavs and a once-in-a-playing-career contest awaits.
Jesuit opens with Crespi at 4 p.m. on Dec. 27. The Celtics are paced by senior point guard Brandon Williams, a University of Arizona commit who is widely considered one of the top-five floor generals in the Class of 2018. Williams sat out most of last season with a knee injury but has looked like his old self since returning to the Celts' lineup this year. He's an explosive, 6-foot-3 lead guard with great scoring ability and flashy playmaking skills off the bounce and in transition.
The Crusaders have long been a perennial pest to the out-of-state titans that descend on the LSI. Head coach Gene Potter puts together meticulous, well-researched gameplans that keep his squads in these bouts that appear to be mismatches, at least athletically, on paper. Jesuit plays harder and tougher than just about anybody. They won't be out-coached or outworked.
It wouldn't come as a shock if the Crusaders and Celtics are in a scrap come the fourth quarter, especially if Jesuit senior point guard Matt Lang is able to recover from a recent ankle injury. Lang is one of the top shooters in the state, a left-handed sniper who played for the Portland Basketball Club this summer. The senior is flanked by a number of heady, hard-nosed sharpshooters like Joe Wall, Aiden Williams, Will Spitznagel and Sam Handley.
Maybe one of the more underrated first round games pits Beaverton against West Salem. Beaver senior wing Jake Estep is a star in his own right, a Western Oregon signee, who's one of the top scorers in the state. He's the last of the '16-17 team that won Metro and reached the 6A semifinals. Estep is a great shooter, but can put the ball on the deck and create as well.
He'll face a possible one-on-one matchup with West Salem senior Kyle Greeley, a Portland State signee who collected a number of D1 offers over the summer before inking with the Vikings. The Beavers are still breaking a new crew of starters and key substitutes. The Titans have tournament dreams and are 4-2 to start the season with both defeats coming by a point apiece. Beaverton is 3-2 overall with a key win over South Salem on the road. West Salem finished with a 23-6 record and a 4th place finish at the 6A state tournament last year.
This year's LSI field includes seven of Oregon's top 10-ranked boys basketball teams and 13 of the state's top 30, that field led by top-ranked reigning Class 6A state champion Jefferson, third-ranked Grant, annual state title contender West Linn, '16 6A runner-up Clackamas, seventh-ranked Oregon City, ninth-ranked West Salem, Barlow, Clackamas and South Eugene.
Local first-round matchups on Dec. 27 include Lakeridge vs. Jefferson at 9 a.m.; West Linn vs. Oregon City at 10:30 a.m.; Grant vs. Lake Oswego, noon. Additional Dec. 27 contests include Beaverton vs. West Salem, 1:30 p.m.; Crespi vs. Jesuit, 4 p.m.; Mater Dei vs. South Eugene, 5:30 p.m.; Barlow vs. Oak Hill, 7 p.m.; and Clackamas vs. Southridge, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at the door and also at lesschwabinvitational.com.
Miles Vance of the West Linn Tidings contributed to this story.