Defending state champion Jesuit seeking daily improvement
At this point, after last year's never-to-be-forgotten foray through the Class 6A boys' basketball state tournament, nobody should reject Jesuit's state championship chances.
Yes, the Crusaders lost the core of their 6A title team including 80 percent of their starting lineup including Metro League Player of the Year Justin Bieker and maybe the program's purest outside shooter ever in Aiden Williams. Jesuit will have to account for an essentially fresh starting five and develop guys off the bench.
But who are we kidding? Head coach Gene Potter is a mastermind, albeit one that deflects personal attention and praise at any turn. He's one of the greatest Oregon high school basketball coaches of all time. Potter proved as such a year ago, winning his seventh state championship with personnel nobody predicted would topple the likes of Central Catholic, Lake Oswego and Jefferson at the 6A tourney. Potter preaches toughness, unselfishness and playing hard all the time. Those are non-negotiable pillars of his program and hallmarks of any squad he coaches. His players love playing for him. Potter's competitive passion will seemingly never run dry. He's always out to prove something, to get the most out of the next group that comes through the doors, to ensure their experience is just as good as his past teams. Zone defense is a foreign, unfamiliar term at Jesuit. It's man to man, always and forever, on that end of the court. Yet the forward-thinking Potter molds his offensive schemes to the talents and abilities of his players. Jesuit hasn't had a true workhorse in the post since the early 2010s. But rather than fit a square peg into a round hole, the Crusaders became a spread, guard-dominant offense that relied on spacing, outside shooting and breaking defenses down off the dribble.
And quietly, while Jesuit lost the likes of Bieker, Williams, Braden Rice and Will Sheaffer, the Crusaders only played five seniors consistently last season. The rest of the roster was crammed with underclassmen, guys who got to practice every day against all-Metro performers and go on that unbelievable run to the thrilling state title win. Players such as Matthew Levis and Roy Bunn, who were critical components a season ago, are now the headliners. Relative unknows such as Liam Ruttledge who respected the process and paid their dues are already seeing the fruits. They are eager to get extended minutes and flourish.
The defending Metro and 6A champs are already 2-0 after beating Roosevelt on the road and blowing out fellow 6A contender Barlow at home.
"We will work on improving each and every day and try to improve each week to make ourselves competitive in the Metro League race," Potter said. "I think there are a lot of competitive teams in the Metro and it will come down to who can improve from start to finish and who can be the most consistent. I'm not sure there will be any 'upsets' as all the games could be considered tossups."
Levis left an indelible impact on the state title team, bringing an unmistakable edge and intensity to the defensive end of the floor. He was a pest in the most positive sense, a nuisance who would pick up opponents full court and hound them, make them change direction, force them to use precious energy just to bring the ball up the floor. Levis ran around the floor like his curly, flowing hair was on fire, taking charges, bodying up bigger guys, always challenging, always fighting.
"Levis is my favorite player to watch and least favorite to play against," Westview head coach Mike Wolf said. "Jesuit returns good pieces and had a dominant JV team, so I still believe they are the team to beat."
As Jesuit's most experienced player, Levis will look to expand his offensive repertoire and take on a more featured role.
"We're expecting (Levis) to be more of a leader," Potter said. "He is an outstanding player on both ends of the floor."
Bunn is an on-ball defensive beast in his own right. Last season in the semis against Lake Oswego the defensive dynamo put Wayne McKinney in a straitjacket, holding the future Division One guard to a miserable 3-for-12 shooting night. Bunn was in McKinney's hip pocket and though he only played 15 minutes, his impact was immense. On a vital fourth-quarter possession, the point guard battled for an offensive board, got fouled, then went to the free throw and made two free throws facing a one-and-one scenario. That clutchness helped Jesuit salt the Lakers away in the fourth and advance to the title bout.
Now a junior entering his first year as a starter, Bunn had 13 points, six assists and locked up Bruin star Jesse White in Jesuit's 60-38 blowout romp over Barlow. Four Crusaders scored in double figures led by Ruttledge with 19 pts, including five of eight on threes. Levis, Bunn, Ruttledge, senior wing Aidan Corbitt and junior guard James Lang start for the Crusaders.
"Until someone can consistently beat Jesuit, I would have to put them in the driver's seat for now," Mountainside head coach Dustin Hewitt said.
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