For two years, the best duo to ever lace up the high tops for Valley Catholic boys’ basketball grew together.

They banded in dismaying defeat and reveled in wild success.

Jarrett Gray — the high-wire, dynamic southpaw point guard — and Gabe Taylor — the velvety-shooting, shot-blocking big man from Newberg — formed an inextinguishable inside-outside alliance, one that was dangerously talented, but egoless, both for the good of each other and the Valiants’ overall outlook.

When Gray and Taylor took Valley to the top of 3A this season, garnering a hard-fought, vengeful state championship in the high-pressure cauldron of Coos Bay, they did it in tandem, as the engine driving the Valiants to the winner’s circle with crucial aid coming from timely teammates.

“Going out with a championship was our goal since day one,” said Gray. “Everyone’s pretty close at Valley, and everyone knows each other. To be able to win a championship, one of the few Valley has in boys’ basketball, hopefully they just keep getting more. It’s great to share it with the guys we had this year.”

Taylor and Gray took their games and team to new heights at the 3A state tournament, guiding Valley through a gauntlet of loaded teams like De La Salle to take home a 62-50 state title. The twosome was unstoppable, scoring 22 points apiece despite being the center of De La Salle’s defensive attention, and in the process exacted retribution for last year’s semifinal loss and eventual fifth-place finish. In an unruly atmosphere where every fan sans Valley’s cheering section wanted to see the state’s top team go down in smoke, the Valiants looked to their senior one-two punch, who categorically delivered with steadiness and true grit.

“The most rewarding thing for me was winning it as a group,” said Taylor. “It felt great to come back and redeem ourselves and win, but to do it as a group was even better. It’ll always look good when we come back and see the banner in the gym and realize all the hard work we put in to get there.”

All-state combo

Saturday’s OACA 3A OACA North vs. State All-Star game marked the final time Gray and Taylor would ever suit up collectively in a Valiant uniform, and quite possibly the last instance they’ll ever officially play together in an organized setting.

It was a bittersweet notion, as the all-state combo walked off the Sprague High School hardwood side-by-side, 82-75, victors over the South’s 3A all-stars. Gray and Taylor went through the trenches together, won 50 games over their two seasons and experienced every high and low the game of basketball has to offer. To have it all be at an end was sudden, but not solemn. The combo accomplished everything they’d set out to do before the season: win a state championship, secure their respective futures with collegiate scholarships, all the while enjoying their final year at Valley.

“It was a team effort the whole season,” said Gray. “Every time it got close or we needed a bucket, we’d go to Gabe and just let him pound inside. It was just fun being able to play and win a championship the last year we played together.”

The OACA all-star contests were simply the icing on two eminent careers. Taylor was his usual authoritative self on knocking down pull-up jumpers off the bounce and burying threes from deep on his way to a game-high 21 points and all-OACA honors.

Gray made his presence felt on the defensive end, blocking a pair of shots and picking the pockets of the South’s guards.

“It was fun getting a final chance to put on the high school jersey the last couple days,” said Gray. “But, I’m still going to remember this last season most and the whole team, especially the group of guys we leave behind.”

“It was fun being a part of team that really wants to win and play hard,” said Taylor. “I really liked the intensity. Defensively, we really played hard. It was a close game, and we had to battle to the end.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Former Valley Catholic post Gabe Taylor did it all for the Valiants this season, scoring, rebounding, blocking shots and being a team leader.

Lasting legacy

Gray and Taylor left a lasting legacy on Valley’s program, not just with he playoff wins, the district titles and state crown, but the way they worked and went about setting a selfless example for future Valiant teams.

“For all the individual accolades they got, it never changed them as people,” said Valiant head coach Joel Sobotka. “They continued to be great guys and teammates. The way they played it was sort of pick your poison. They knew if teams concentrated on Gabe, then Jarrett is going to, and Gabe was fine with that. It was the same thing with Jarrett. The consistent thing was it didn’t matter to them. They didn’t care, as long as we won. Whenever you have your two best players that are that unselfish to win, you’re going to have a good program.”

Sobotka coached his combo for the final time for the North and said he had ample coaches and players come up to him and say how enjoyable Taylor and Gray were to be around on and off the floor.

“It was really fun as a coach to hear other people tell you, ‘Hey they’re really good players, but they’re good kids, too’,” said Sobotka.

Before accepting the Valley job two years ago after years at the University of Portland as an assistant coach, Sobotka had seen Taylor play at Newberg High School, but was unfamiliar with Gray’s aptitude. That changed, Sobotka said, after about 10 sublime minutes of a summer league contest in Seaside during which Gray seized the game by the throat, as well as the starting job at the point.

“From that moment, I think to where he is now in terms of improvement, leadership, development and confidence...I’ve never had a player improve that much in two years,” said Sobotka of Gray.

Sobotka and Taylor built a trusting relationship early on. Taylor and Sobotka knew the big man’s future lied on perimeter, where his ballhandling and silky outside shot could flourish. Yet, to win a state championship, Taylor needed to play in the post, moving from block-to-block, acting as the immovable anchor to which Valley tied its title hopes to.

“He sacrificed a lot,” said Sobotka of Taylor. “And, yeah he worked on other things. You could see today he can go outside and inside. But, the great thing is he wanted to win. He knew coming in he was going to get all that attention from our opponents, but he kept his composure throughout the year. He stayed consistent and not only grew as a player, but as a leader for our program.”

The promise land

Sobotka said “there was no question” who Valley’s leader was at the 3A state tourney as Taylor trampled every foe in his path, powering through double and even triple teams, willing the Valiants to the promise land.

“He was dominant as any player I’ve ever seen at that tournament,” said Sobotka. “That, to me, was a culmination of all the hard work he put in. (Taylor) spends more time in the gym working out than any kid I know. All that came together down in Coos Bay. It was really fun to see for him and his family.”

Valley’s all-state point guard committed to Concordia University in May, a Division Three school that is moving up to DII in 2016, the year after Gray redshirts. This summer, the lefty is working out with Taylor and former Jesuit great Stephen Holt to get ready for the fall.

Taylor committed to the University of Portland as a junior and signed his letter of intent last fall. The 6-foot-9 post moves in to UP this Sunday, and will be working hard to add bulk to his frame in hopes of seeing the floor for the Pilots this coming season.

“You might not see them start from the moment they step on campus, but I guarantee by their junior or senior year people will be saying, ‘Wow, look at those guys’,” said Sobotka. “They’re going to continue to get better. They’ll be around bigger and better players, and they’ll have to improve. Both of their schools do a tremendous job of teaching and developing players, so I think they’ll both go up a notch.”

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