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PREP FOCUS: Grant High to get battle-tested

Jesuit visits on Thursday, as PIL Generals build around three key cogs


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Grant's Darren Kennedy takes a shot.A description of the Grant High's boys basketball team, in a Twitter-esque nutshell: A second-year coach, a big Bird who leads a standout trio, various role players and a good team feel.

The Generals are 2-0 after victories against Barlow and Benson, and the coach, Paul Kelly, is eager to see what else his Portland Interscholastic League team can do the rest of the way.

The next page of the story is Thursday night at Grant, where another Class 6A titan — Jesuit — pays a visit.

The 7:30 p.m. game is Grant's home opener.

"Our student body and alumni should be fired up," Kelly says.

It didn't help the Generals that Wednesday's practice had to be canceled because school was closed due to inclement morning weather.

"But we know what to expect from Jesuit," Kelly says. "It's a Gene-Potter coached team — they play hard, they run a disciplined offense. We're going to have to be ready to get over screens and switch screens.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Grant coach Paul Kelly watches his team against Benson."But at the same time, they're going to have to defend us, and we feel really confident about our ability to execute."

Kelly says Jesuit nipped the Generals in a close summer-league game, but Grant didn't have its ace, 6-6 Deiondre Bird.

Bird is the main man this year for the Generals, who were led last season by all-PIL players and then-seniors Theo Friedman (now with the Oregon Ducks) and Bryce Canda.

"Deiondre is kind of our do-everything guy," Kelly says. "He plays all five positions, has a very high basketball IQ, is very unselfish. He's one of our bigger guys, so he probably starts in the post, but most big guys aren't fast enough to watch him off the dribble and most smaller guys he can take down in the paint.

"He can go full court, too, and either make a play or get the ball to someone else, and he usually makes the right decisions."

Bird, second-team all-PIL last season, missed most of the summer AAU and high school circuits with an ankle injury.

"That hurt him some in terms of his development and exposure to colleges, but he put on 15 pounds of muscle while he was injured, and that will help him get ready for the next level," Kelly says. "He's got some D-II and D-III opportunities, but he wants to play at the highest level. D-I coaches like his skill set; they just want to see a little more fire in him."

And the Generals could use more of that, too.

"We're asking him to be a little more selfish. We need him to be aggressive and more selfish," Kelly says. "He's a great kid and doesn't want to stand out. He wants to be one of the guys. But we're telling him that this is the opportunity for him to step out and be who he's supposed to be, and I think he's embracing that role."

Bird and two other Generals — third-year guard Darren Kennedy, a 5-9 junior, and 6-4 senior wing Dylan Leonard figure to be the three players who will get Grant going most of the time this season.

"Our main three guys are going to be our main three guys," Kelly says. "For us to beat the good teams and play well, it's going to take those three."

Kennedy has improved his outside shot, the coach says, and become "an extension of me on the floor."

Leonard "runs the floor, plays above the rim, knocks it down from the perimeter and is probably our hardest worker."

It's more than a three-man game, though, and Kelly says he is blessed to have a variety of others he can call on for different things, at different times.

"We're getting solid support from guys on the bench who know their roles," Kelly says. "They all like one another. There's good chemistry. They're going to play well together.

"I don't think, man for man, we're as talented as we were last season … but sometimes less is more."

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Grant's Russell Tillery tries to turn the corner against Benson's Vonte Carter.Among the supporting cast: 6-1 senior guard Luke Atherton, 6-2 senior forward Oscar Griffin, 5-9 sophomore guard Russell Tillery and 5-9 senior guard Kal Johnson.

"Atherton gives us leadership, shooting and defense," Kelly says. "Griffin is a banger in the paint, sets good screens and plays good defense. Tillery is a backup guard, and Johnson is a good floor leader as well."

The Generals opened last Friday with a 62-59 win at Barlow.

On Tuesday, they went to PIL 5A rival Benson and came away with a 56-48 victory.

"We were a little disappointed with our performance last night in terms of our ability to execute our game plan, but we have to give Benson credit for that," Kelly says. "I knew those Benson kids would play hard for (new coach) Earl (Clark), and anytime we play a PIL school, it's going to be high-intensity and have community support.

"Benson was able to take us out of some of the things we wanted to do. It took us awhile to adjust.

"But that's our goal this season, not just to win games but also to just get better and improve, game by game."

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Grant High's Duarte Papa-Vincente matches up against Tech's Jahmani Spencer in Tuesday's game at Benson.The Generals will have the opportunity to get better, because their formidable early schedule also includes home games Dec. 18 with Sheldon, Dec. 20 against Southridge and Jan. 11 with Jefferson.

On top of that, the G-Men are in the annual Les Schwab Invitational at Liberty High Dec. 27-30, and their first-round matchup is the No. 8-ranked team in the country, Rainier Beach of Seattle, at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 27.

Grant also has a nonleague game booked for Jan. 14 at West Linn, which won the 6A title last season.

"Our league will be tough, too — we've got a brutal schedule, but I like it that way," Kelly says. "We want to be the team that is battle-tested. We're not afraid to play anyone."

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Benson's Cameron Retherford goes up against Grant defenders.