READY TO FLY
Zach Galvin's quicksilver hands swiped the basketball away and quickly passed ahead to 6-foot-5, 230-pound Kade Hustler streaking down the middle of the hardwood.
It was the second half of Southridge's last official summer league game against Lake Oswego — a time when players play free and loose without the threat of getting benched quickly due to a bad shot or mistake.
Hustler caught Galvin's chest pass in stride, but instead of coming to a jump stop and finding a guard, the big guy pushed the basketball up the floor.
Summer league is for growth to get better as an individual player, to see what works and what doesn't against varsity competition. To a see a big man testing the open floor waters isn't abnormal. Two long strides later, the rising sophomore spun in mid-air around the free throw with two scared-looking Lakers standing in front of the burly offensive tackle and flipped a pass out to Brock Henry behind the three-point line.
Last season, the Skyhawks would have pulled the ball back out, let their big men trot down and set up shop on the block. Slow, steady, methodical. This style of play helped Southridge surpass expectations and reach the second round of the Class 6A playoffs a year ago.
But Southridge's towering posts are gone. So is the offensive restraint. The old rules of engagement have been ripped up under head coach Phil Vesel. Two steps behind the line and squared up along the right wing, the hot-handed Henry lifted the three-point bomb with no hesitation and splashed it.
This type of shot, a long-range attempt that's open and acceptable, is the new normal for the Skyhawks. No longer will Southridge set up in the half court if doesn't need to. The first good shot is the one that should be hoisted. What's more is as soon as Henry's triple swished through the net, he, Galvin and Kyle Mabray all sprinted toward the baseline and blanketed the Laker guards 94 feet from the hoop.
When Lake Oswego point guard Josh Angle inbounded the basketball, Galvin was in his grill, poking, prodding and digging at the rock.
Forget whatever conventional images you've conjured up about Southridge's schemes the past three years so.
This is an offensive-minded player's paradise where knockdown shooters like Henry will have field days, playmakers such as Galvin can gorge on extra possessions, and big guys such as Hustler can expand their games beyond the confines of rebounding and post play. Indeed, it's a new day around the Skyhawk program — one that's been welcomed and translated into the sort of summer league wins that have some whispering Southridge is the team to beat in the Metro League next season.
"We should be able to contend for something our school hasn't done, which is get a Metro League title," Vesel said. "We should give ourselves an opportunity to do that and we know if you win Metro, you have a chance at the state level. Both of those things I believe are realistic for our group if we continue to move in the way we're going. If you don't put those goals out there and chase it, then you're not going to get there. I think it's important to be thinking big picture on where you can get to. Then you have your roadmap as to how you get there. That's your focus."
To call Southridge's sea change philosophy "run-and-gun" might be a tad too radical. The sweeping shift from slow to supersonic on both ends of the floor, though, has resonated with the Hawks. During the summer, Southridge scored 100 points three times. They've blown defensive-minded teams like 5A power Wilsonville out the water with blistering pace and tempo. The hope heading into next season is this style of play will carry over to Metro next year and teams that don't have the depth or the conditioning level to keep pace for 32 minutes will fade when the fourth quarter comes around.
"That's kind of my thing — I've always liked to play uptempo, trap and get after people," Galvin said with a smile. "It's been a lot of fun for me."
Southridge's free-flowing, unencumbered offense and harassing, pressurized defense aren't so much a sign of the times as it is an ode the frankly charged, intriguing talent permeating throughout the roster. As Vesel said simply, the Skyhawks want to manufacture more offensive possessions because they have so many capable creators. Vesel is a coach who every season adjusts to his players' strengths, rather than abide by a set-in-stone system that forces his teams to fold their abilities into one playing style.
"An open three-point shot is just that, it doesn't matter if it's after six passes or one pass," Vesel said. "If you're a great three-point shooter we want you to take that. It creates spurts and momentum. We've been getting some really good ball energy going. I've seen some good glimpses this summer of how I want this team to play next year."
Surely, the Golden State Warriors have made positionless, three-point shot-reliant offense trendy and the switching, pestering perimeter defense prevalent. But, it's hardly replicable, unless you have the right type of personnel, which Southridge sports. Galvin, Henry, Kyle Mabray, Bo Quinlan, Ben Pak, Pono Van Dusen and Connor Fajardo can all put the ball on the deck, penetrate, pass well and most importantly make open shots when presented. And their post platoon appears refined and rejuvenated by the switched school of thought. Hustler, Bradley Bickler and Fillip Fullerton all stand at least 6-foot-5, but they're athletic, mobile, able to run the floor and rebound at a high rate.
Galvin is a two-way guard who got better seemingly every game last year. A defensive-minded hound who makes life a living hell for his opponent on that end of the floor with his length, fast hands and ability to keep his man in front of him, the rising junior is working to become more of an offensive threat. Versus Lake Oswego, Galvin slid over to Angle and made the Laker guard a complete non-factor in the fourth quarter with defensive prowess. Offensively throughout, Galvin looked greatly improved, knowing when to attack and get his own shot while setting up his teammates.
"I've tried to step up my game all around," Galvin said. "I changed my shot, started attacking the rim, just added some things to my game that I didn't have last year and improved some skills that weren't so good last year like free throws and ball handling. I tried to take my game to the next level. I still have a long ways to go, but I think I've started towards that."
Vesel said Galvin is a "charismatic kid" who others want to follow because he's likable and high-energy.
"He can impact a game in so many ways," Vesel said. "He creates momentum almost single-handedly at times for us. I'd like to see him and Brock step into that leadership roles."
Henry is in the same mold as Galvin in that he plays both ends of the court with equal aplomb. As a sophomore, Henry was Southridge's "Hustle Player of the Year" because he led the team in deflections. The junior's skill set is based around his potent perimeter shot, a weapon that allows the rest of his floor game to open up, particularly off the dribble. As a shooter, however, few can get baking in a hurry like Henry, who has the green light to rise and fire.
"It's a dream," Henry said of Southridge's new attack. "Sometimes it's hard not to abuse that freedom, but it's a really fun way to play. It's been a great learning process. We're playing a lot faster and a lot more in transition, especially jump shots in transition that maybe we shouldn't have taken last year. But, now they're open and (Vesel) is encouraging us to take those shots. He wants us to play fast. And I think we're doing a good job of knocking those shots down, so far."
Quinlan, a transfer from Life Christian High School who will be a senior next year, is a 6-foot-3 guard who started alongside Henry and Galvin for most of the summer. The jump from the 2A level to the biggest classification in Oregon has been rather seamless for the 6-foot-4 guard, Vesel said. Another shot creator/shot maker on the floor will only add to Southridge's desire to play fly around the floor and create havoc with crisp ball movement and fluid cuts.
In the second round of the postseason against Beaverton last year, Southridge was stymied by a first half thunderstorm of Beaver threes, the likes of which buried the Skyhawks before the third quarter began. After beating Beaverton at home and nearly knocking off the two-time Metro champs on the road during the regular season, Southridge was stunned by the playoff intensity and competitive hostility with which the senior-stocked Beavers played. The Dam shook from rafter to rafter all night as the possibility of another Southridge upset dwindled quickly. One play specifically stood out to Vesel, who said Southridge seemed just happy to be there instead of ready to clash. Early in the first quarter, Beaverton senior Carson Crawford came up from his crouched position on a baseline out of bounds play and slapped the ball off a Skyhawk guard's face to regain possession. It was one play in a game filled with chances to switch the momentum, but Vesel said it was illustrative of a bigger point moving forward.
"We have to go chase something, nothing is going to be given to you," Vesel said. "In that playoff game, that was a taste of what that's like. We were hunted and we weren't ready to be hunted. A lot of that learning comes from being out in the fire and being in games like those. Having that experience is huge. I think experience goes so far. As much as you talk about Metro play, you have to go through it to know what it's like. I look forward to seeing that growth of having been there and done that."
Still, that was about as invaluable an education as a young team can endure.
"The big thing is being ready to fight to the finish," Henry said. "We just have to come together in times of adversity, that's going to be huge for us. The guys who are returners definitely remember that game and that feeling after."
Southridge went 11-5 in Metro and didn't have one league loss by double digits. But in those losses, oftentimes it was an opposing star who stepped into the limelight in crunch time and turned the game, whether it was Westview's Mason Elliott and Said Ali or Jesuit's Cameron Parker, for example. In Galvin, Quinlan, Henry and the vast array of options on the roster, Southridge has potential game-changers who seize the game by the throat in the fourth quarter. But they're still somewhat unproven on that stage and will have to prove their clout in the clutch as teams like Beaverton and Jesuit begin to scout Southridge and gauge its breadwinners.
"We have to find ways to grind and win possessions that can change games," Vesel said. "You build that trust so you can find those guys that in the big moments are confident to make the big play. I think we have some guys who can do that, but that's where we're headed. We have to get to the point where there's a trust and confidence coming out of a timeout where it's 'We're going to go do this and make that play.' You have to do that in our league."