'The Three Basketeers'
It's been a special senior season for three area basketball players — a crew that grew up together and now is celebrating conference championships on separate courts.
The Damascus Christian duo of guard Ryan Patrick and center Josh Mitchell helped the Eagles to a 21-game win streak, the state's No. 3 ranking and to the Valley 10 league title. Barlow senior Austin Forrar guided the Bruins to a 16-8 regular-season record and a share of the Mount Hood Conference crown.
"They are just a great group of kids — very respectful and they have great attitudes," Damascus Christian coach Brad Patrick said.
All three were members of 'The Incredibles' — a second grade YMCA team — and spent their youth together with dads taking turns coaching their teams up through eighth grade.
The trio played their freshman season together at Damascus Christian, winning the league title with a 13-1 record before falling to Sherman in the state playoffs — it would end up being their last time in the same uniform.
Austin left the small private school for Barlow and quickly caught the eye of Bruins' coach Tom Johnson during summer basketball.
"He came in for tryouts and the way he defended and the way he competed, that opened our eyes a lot," Johnson said.
Austin has spent the last three seasons in the varsity lineup although this season meant some changes.
"We graduated five seniors last year, so my role changed. I had to take on being a team leader, getting our younger guys together," Austin said.
He has also been asked to play inside more this season, battling against bigger bodies for rebounds and loose balls. Of course, that swings in his favor when the Bruins get out on the fast break, and he is able to fly past slower defenders for easy buckets.
"Physically I'm at that weird size (6-foot-3) where I'm big enough to play the post, but I'm not the strongest guy out there," Austin said. "But I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help the team."
Meanwhile, Ryan has led Damascus in scoring and assists this season with an uncanny ability to mix up his attack. He resembles Golden State guard Steph Curry in the fact that once he crosses half court he is in shooting range. Repeatedly this season he has hit shots from 4-5 feet behind the arc, catching unsuspecting defenders by surprise.
But in addition to his deep range, Ryan is also able to beat players off the dribble or run the offense and find an open teammate.
"Ryan has a high basketball IQ — he recognizes things on the floor and has a clarity about what to do," Brad Patrick said. "He makes a tremendous impact on the game."
Damascus ranks among the highest scoring teams in the state, surpassing 70 points eight times.
Josh is the starting center at Damascus, battling on the boards for a team that has slashing guards and 3-point shooters spread around the perimeter.
"Josh brings a lot of leadership — he's the hardest worker on the floor," Brad Patrick said.
Austin's family lives five minutes from Damascus Christian, so the players remain close despite attending different schools. On off days, Austin will swing by for lunch during the week, they are part of a Wednesday morning Bible study and they drop in on each other's games whenever possible.
The biggest mosh-pit moment came two weeks ago when Barlow was hosting Clackamas in a game that would give the Bruins at least a share of the league title. The bleachers were packed to the top, and there in the middle of the throng were Austin's buddies.
"We brought 17 people to that game and made our own little section," Josh said. "He saw us right away — we were going crazy every time he scored."
Austin gave them more reason to cheer when he sank a pair of key foul shots in the final minute to keep Barlow in the lead.
"There was this connection like I was down on the bench with him — it's like the pressure is on you, too," Josh said.
The connection between schools isn't limited to these three players, but crosses over among the coaches, as well. Brad Patrick was a senior on Tom Johnson's first team at Barlow in 1987.
"I'll still call him up for a cup of coffee and we'll talk basketball — I have a lot of respect for T.J.," Brad Patrick said.
Austin and Josh have been friends since kindergarten, growing up through boy scouts together. That led to one of their greatest adventures.
"Josh comes up with these crazy camping ideas and we make them happen," Austin laughs.
A couple years back, the duo led a troop of new hikers along the Eagle Creek trail. It was one of those spring days that started our sunny and turned into a soaker.
"We're thinking we have this super easy hike ahead of us," Austin said. "We get there and end up walking through the rain for eight hours straight and everyone is drenched."
The troop arrived at their scheduled camp site only to find the grounds flooded, meaning they had to push farther along the trail to find a suitable overnight spot.
The adventure was just beginning.
"Austin probably didn't share this, but he put his tent up really quickly and around 2 a.m. we hear our door getting unzipped. His tent had collapsed, and he woke up lying in a puddle. He spent the rest of the night curled up in the corner of our tent," Josh laughed.
The trio plans to spend spring break together touring a set of colleges in California.
"They follow me wherever I go," Austin said with a chuckle.
Not surprisingly, this bunch spends much of its off time together playing basketball.
"We are always switching around houses, but we're always playing basketball and it's always competitive," Austin said.
"It could be swimming pool basketball or on a Nerf hoop or 2K18 (video game), it doesn't matter, we play to win. We're always arguing about who's better — anyone who is smart will say it's me," Ryan laughs.
Damascus Christian saw its season come to a close with a second-round playoff loss to Joseph on Saturday. Barlow starts its playoff quest Wednesday night at South Salem.
"We're playing in some really exciting games, and it's been a great way to wrap up my career," Austin said. "It's crazy to see where we've come from that freshman season together."