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Senior heavy squad gets the Bruins to the 6A tournament for the second time in three years

PMG PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Barlow High coach Tom Johnson runs through practice drills in preparation for the 6A state tournament.

The final bell has rung, and chatter fills the hallways at Barlow High as students rush out the doors to the student parking lot. But not everyone is going home.

English teacher Tom Johnson moves around his classroom wrapping up preparations. A Romeo and Juliet assignment is scribbled in the bottom corner of the whiteboard. On Johnson's desk, his reading glasses sit atop a black book with a sunburst on the cover 'Stillness is the Key'. The empty desks soon fill up four rows deep — half of the students are clutching basketballs.

It's time for a film session.

Johnson sits at the controls at his laptop, playing through the second half of the team's recent playoff win over Westview. It's a time to make sure the team has it's signals straight and to study their spacing on the floor. Johnson reminds his team that the court at the Chiles Center this weekend is five feet deeper on each end.

Next up, assistant coach Gene Saling walks to the front of the room with a stack of notecards. It's time for his 'One Thing' — a quick mental note for the upcoming game. Today's message is about enjoying the moment. Not being petrified by the big stage, but embracing the opportunity.

PMG PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Barlows Carter Serafini grabbed a front-row seat for Tuesdays film session.

Johnson steps to the front of the class and speaks to the group about sportsmanship and controlling anger. He relays the compliments he received about how the Bruins handled themselves as the Les Schwab tournament over Christmas Break. Johnson reminds his crew that one person messing up puts a stain on the whole group. It's the last message of the day.

"You want to set the reputation for Barlow and for ourselves," Barlow senior Jaren Hunter said. "You never want to stand out in a bad way, and T.J. emphasizes that."

"A lot of youth players are going to be there and they look up to us. We want to demonstrate that we take pride in our attitude," senior teammate Evan Inglesby said.

The session is dismissed and everyone makes the walk down the hallway to the gym for practice to begin. The seamless transition from drill to drill show a group that is familiar with the process. No time is wasted.

PMG PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Barlow senior Joey Wolcott shares a laugh while going through a free-throw session.

The practice opens with a 2-minute shooting drill — three players flying down the floor — two fire up 3-pointers and the other goes in for a layup. This is happening at both ends of the court at the same time with Johnson standing on the side in front of the folded up bleachers counting out every ball that goes through the net.

Hit 48 shots in the two minutes and no one runs.

The team sits at 33 with 0:30 on the clock when Johnson chirps 'You gotta pick it up.' The next five shots all find their target.

The team finishes with 49.

No running this time.

Next up, the players pair up for a batch of free throws on tired legs. Make 10, then switch.

Off on a side basket, Hunter hits his 10th foul shot then entertains his partner by displaying his 'granny shot' technique. Both of those attempts come up short. He promises not to try it on game night.

"We like to make each other laugh. We know when to make things light and when to be serious," Hunter said. "A lot of us have been together since fifth grade, and we mesh together so well."

PMG PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Barlow guard Jesse White looks for an opening to the hoop during a 3-on-2 drill.

Next up, is a 3-on-2 drill that is constantly in motion, simulating fast breaks at both ends of the floor. The white squad stays a step ahead throughout the three-minute flurry with Trevor Jones sinking a corner 3 with only seconds left, followed by his best Damian Lillard wave goodbye, knowing he just saddled the opposing blue team with push-up duty.

"You want to simulation game situations as much as possible. That keeps the competitive spirits flying, and that brings out hard work," Hunter said.

For the Bruins that hard work has paid off in a 15-game win streak and a Mount Hood Conference title. But the team has its biggest games ahead, starting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the 6A quarterfinals against PIL-champ Jefferson at the University of Portland's Chiles Center.

PMG PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Barlows Tom Johnson and assistant Gene Saling (right) compare notes, while players warm up prior to Tuesdays practice.

"We need to keep the mentality that we are here for a reason — that we've won 15 games in a row for a reason," Inglesby said. "Ever since middle school, we've been saying Chiles Center senior year, Chiles Center senior year."

"At this point, one bad game and you are done for the season, so there is a different level of intensity that comes with that," Barlow senior Jesse White said. "This is our last chance together, and we are striving to win the whole thing. But you can't say that the season was a failure when you're finishing at the Chiles Center."

6A quarterfinals schedule

Thursday, March 12

@ University of Portland Chiles Center

Afternoon session

#9 West Linn (17-9) vs. #1 Jesuit (22-4), 1:30 p.m.

#5 Central Catholic (19-7) vs. #4 Clackamas (21-5), 3:15 p.m.

Evening session

#6 Barlow (20-6) vs. #3 Jefferson (23-4), 6:30 p.m.

#7 Lake Oswego (18-8) vs. #2 South Salem (23-3), 8:15 p.m.

View photos at ...

This story is scheduled for our Friday, March 13, print edition.

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