NWAC pulls plug on championship tournaments on verge of finals
The Northwest Athletic Conference men's basketball tournament was officially underway when the Clackamas Community College men's basketball gathered for a breakfast meeting at head coach Clif Wegner's house in Oregon City.
The Cougars were scheduled to face Yakima Valley in a 2 p.m. game at CCC's Randall Hall, taking the first step in what Wegner and others believed would turn into a four-day run to a NWAC Championship.
Then everything came to an abrupt end as the NWAC canceled all remaining games in the tournament as a preemptive strike in the nation's rapidly evolving war against the coronavirus pandemic.
"Literally, as the players walked out the door and were getting into their cars, we got a text message that the tournament was being shut down," Wegner said. "Right there, in the street, we hugged and cried and then moved back into my house and hung out for another hour trying to absorb was what happening.
"It was such a sudden shock. I've coached for a long, long, long time, and I've never experienced any kind of ending to the season like that."
March 13, 2020 may go down in sports history as "Black Thursday" because everything came to an abrupt end, from the NCAA cancelling the men's and women's basketball tournaments to the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, PGA Tour, and Major League Soccer suspending play indefinitely.
Even the Kentucky Derby has been tentatively rescheduled from the first Saturday in May to the first Saturday in September.
But the call on the NWAC basketball tournaments? That one hit close to home, especially for Clackamas CC's six sophomores who were in their final season of junior college eligibility.
"I know for every team and all the coaches that still had a postseason, it was a shock and a disappointment, but it gets magnified exponentially the better the team you have and the better chance you think you have to win the tournament," Wegner said. "We had a bunch of kids who had put together a Hall of Fame-caliber season and were on the cusp of realizing their final goal, and it was just taken from them.
"It was as if there had been a death in the family. They were grieving and they were heartbroken and angry and it's going to take awhile to settle in that the whole world has life without basketball for a little bit."
One for the books
Wegner had guided three previous Clackmas teams to NWAC titles in 2007, 2009, and 2010, but said the 2019-20 team was as good as, if not better than, any team he has ever coached.
Ranked No. 1 in the final NWAC coaches poll, the Cougars ended the season with a 25-3 overall and 14-2 in league play, finishing one game against of Umpqua in the race for the South Region title.
Clackamas ranked second in the conference in average points per game (93.2), and was 13th in field-goal shooting percentage (46.7), third in 3-point shooting percentage (38.4), 15 th in free-throw shooting percentage (71.3), third in rebounds per game (45.6), and third in assists per game (19.8).
Sophomore point guard Robert Ford was a unanimous choice as the South Region Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year after averaging a team-high 23.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists for the Cougar.
Clackamas forward K'wan Carter (14.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.5 apg) and guard Clay Sullivan (14.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.2 apg) were named to the all-Region second team. Carter also earned a spot on the South's All-Defensive Team and was recognized as the South's Freshman of the Year, and Wegner was honored as the region's Coach of the Year.
Looking back, was it a great season? Or did the sudden end and the fact that the Cougars were left with unfinished business detract from what the team had achieved?
"It was a great year," Wegner said. "To me, I'll feel the same way about this team as I've felt about some of the greatest team I've ever had. Realistically, this team was one of the greatest in the history of Clackamas Community College with how they played and what they accomplished.
"They were denied the ultimate prize. I told them already that they didn't need that to prove to me that they were champions. They were already champions. That just would have proved it to the rest of the NWAC, the rest of the Northwest, and the rest of the world.
"They played like champions, they acted like champions, and they did everything right, and that's what makes it seem so grossly unfair about the situation. But, such is life. Life goes on and it's not the end of the world."
Change of venue
The NWAC men's and women's tournaments originally were scheduled to played at Everett Community College in Everett, Wash., with the first two rounds played on March 5-8, followed by the semifinals and championship finals on March 14-15.
Both tournaments were suspended on March 5 after an Everett student tested positive for COVID-19 and the campus was closed for extensive cleaning.
The decision was made to move the men's tournament to Clackamas Community College for four straight days, March 12-15, while the women's tournament was all set to complete the first two rounds at Linn-Benton Community in Albany on March 12-13 before also moving to Clackamas CC for the semifinals and finals on March 14-15.
Clackamas CC's women was scheduled to play Peninsula in an 8 p.m. game on March 12, but never got the opportunity in a tournament that started, stopped, restarted in another location, and, finally, was canceled.
"We made the right decision at that time," said Clackamas women's coach Jim Martineau, who also serves as the school's athletic director. "We had talked most of the week about being able to get it in, but in the backs of our minds we all knew that it could change.
"People were disappointed and frustrated, but they were also really understanding of a unique situation and that ultimately it's the health of our community and our student-athletes that comes first."
The Cougars ended the season with a 21-6 record overall and 11-5 in league play, finishing third in the South behind top-ranked Umpqua (29-0, 16-0) and Lane (23-6, 12-4).
Clackamas ranked sixth among NWAC women's teams in scoring, averaging 74.8 points a game, and was eighth in field-goal shooting percentage (42.1), fifth in 3-point shooting percentage (32.1), eighth in rebounds per game (40.6), and eighth in assists per game (16.1).
Cougars freshman Brooke Bullock, the 5-foot-9 guard from Oregon City High School, was named the South's Player of the Year. In 26 games, Bullock averaged 18.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and a league-high 3.4 steals, with 17 double-doubles (points-rebounds).
"All in all, it was a good year," Martineau said. "We had a couple chances to beat Lane, and the home game was one that stung. And then Umpqua was just better than everybody else and it was going to take a special effort to beat them."
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