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PREP FOCUS: Demos put their tools to work toward another title

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sundi Edwards, Jefferson's 7-foot senior post, leaps over a teammate during the pre-game introductions at Jeff last Friday. The Democrats beat PIl 5A rival Madison 94-61.Jefferson High boys basketball coach Pat Strickland says the Democrats have the potential to not only win the PIL 5A but also to win another Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A championship.

The Demos have all the tools to defend their state title. Jefferson has a dynamic scorer in Silas Melson, strong play at point guard from Kadeem Strickland and two gargantuan centers in 6-11 Greyson Smallwood and 7-0 Sundi Edwards.

“We have what it takes to compete for a state championship,” Strickland says. “We have something that no other team in the state has. We have a couple of 7-footers who can control the paint. Anything that comes in there, they’re throwing it out of there. We have an x-factor in that.

"We also have pretty good guard play. We’re a pretty good all-around team.”

The question for the Demos is: Can they translate their wealth of potential into consistently solid performances?

“Our problem is that we’ve got to get up for every game,” Strickland says, as Jeff prepares for Tuesday night's league game at Benson. “We don’t get up for every game. The coaches can turn blue in the face to try to game plan and try to pump the guys up, but at some point they’ve got to take it upon themselves and get ready for every game.

"We’ve been playing well in spurts and moments. We still haven’t played a full four quarters.”

That was evident last Friday night, when Jefferson allowed Madison to hang around into the second half before blowing out the Senators 94-61.

Jefferson’s offense runs through Melson, who can be a dynamic scorer with his ability to drive to the hoop and create his own shot.

“Silas is Silas,” Strickland says. “He’s the best player in the state. It’s going to be tough for teams to contain him because we have other guys who can step up and make things happen, too.

"Silas is going to continue to get a lot of good looks. Teams continue trying to lock Silas up, box-and-one, or whatever. But we have other guys who can step up.

"It’s going to be very tough for him not to score 20-plus from here on out.”

Other players who can help Melson include Kadeem Strickland, who runs the point well and can pop a 3 when he is open.

“People may think that we’re a one- man team, but I don’t think so,” Strickland says. “And, if they try to play us as a one-man team, the other guys are going to burn them.”

Then there are Jeff’s two big men, although neither Smallwood nor Edwards is a seasoned player.

Edwards has been playing basketball for only two years. He still struggles at times with foul trouble, but he takes up a lot of room in the key on defense and is a good rebounder.

Smallwood, who says he grew two inches in the last year and is still growing, has been playing basketball for six years.

Because Jefferson is a running team, Smallwood does not get a chance to post up very often. However, Smallwood is a monster on defense, and he can change the way any opponent tries to run its offense against the Demos.

“My strengths are my defensive game,” Smallwood says. “I really need to work on my offensive game, work on my post moves and become a better player in general.”

Strickland says the greatest strength of his two big men is their willingness to be role players.

“They’re still learning the game,” Strickland says. “They’re both real fresh. They’re still making progress, and they’re still growing.

"The thing with those guys is they know their role. They’re probably not going to get a lot of touches with their back to the bucket because we’re a running, get up and down team. But if you ask those guys what their job is, they’re going to tell you it’s to block shots and rebound. They know their roles and play them to a T.”

If Jefferson’s bigs can continue developing and the team can figure out how to show up and play each night, the sky is the limit for the Demos.

With Jefferson sitting in first place in the PIL 5A, the Demos will control their destiny the rest of the season.

“I like our progress heading into the rest of league play and on to state,” Strickland says. “From here on out, we’re our own worst enemy, not only in PIL, but in a state run.

"We understand that we can lose. We can lose on any given evening.”