There are no "gimmes" in high school basketball.
Previous success is no guarantee of future success.
Big prizes — such as berths in the eight-team Class 6A state tournament — must be earned each and every time.
And that's just what the Lake Oswego boys basketball team did.
The Lakers, after winning their third straight Three Rivers League title (this year with an unbeaten record), won twice in the state playoffs to earn their spot in the state tournament. Lake Oswego opened the playoffs with a 44-28 home win over No. 26 Cleveland on Wednesday, March 4, then added a 75-57 home win over 10th-ranked South Eugene on Saturday, March 7, to earn their second straight tournament berth.
Next up, the seventh-ranked Lakers (18-8 overall) will open play in the state tournament against No. 2 South Salem (23-3 overall after winning the Mountain Valley Conference) at 8:15 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
The Lakers say they'll be ready.
"A lot of people probably didn't give us a chance, but one of the big words for this year, for this group, is 'belief,'" said senior guard Sam Abere, the team's lone returning starter from a year ago. "So we came in and (believed in) each other and this program and that's paid off immensely for us."
"We're happy we're here, but obviously, we're not satisfied," said senior guard Casey Graver. "We've got more games."
If the Lakers win their state tournament opener, they will face either No. 6 Barlow (20-6 after winning the Mt. Hood Conference) or No. 3 Jefferson (23-4 after winning the Portland Interscholastic League) in the semifinals at 8:15 p.m. Friday, March 13. If the Lakers lose their opener, they will face the Barlow-Jefferson loser in the consolation semifinals at 10:45 a.m. Friday.
The tournament's fourth-place game is set for 10:45 a.m. Saturday, March 14, the third/fifth-place game for 6:45 p.m. Saturday and the tournament championship for 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
While all that maps out what's ahead for Lake Oswego, the road to the state tournament was long, winding and filled with challenges.
Here's where the 2019-20 Lakers came from.
A year ago, the Lakers had just finished off their second straight Three Rivers League title, advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 2013 and finished third at state to secure their first tournament trophy in six seasons.
But Lake Oswego graduated six seniors (four of them all-leaguers, led by first-team all-league and first-team all-tournament guard Josh Angle) at the end of the year, saw all-star point guard Wayne McKinney III transfer away and were left with just one starter and four other returning varsity players on their roster.
Then, the Lakers added senior guard Jack Chlumak — a transfer from Newberg — to the mix, opened the year with a 4-7 record in the season's first month and pondered a gym full of questions.
But since then, Lake Oswego has hit its stride.
The Lakers have gone 14-1 in the past two months, won the Three Rivers League with a perfect 12-0 mark, and put together back-to-back playoff wins to earn a second straight 6A tournament berth.
"It took a lot of hard work in the beginning," said junior post Trace Salton. "It was a rough start, but I think we're truly connected now and we're just balling out there."
"We were definitely overlooked at the beginning of the season," Abere said. "The credit goes to the coaching staff. They do a crazy good job of preparing us in practice and getting us ready for situations."
Now, faced with a contest against the No. 2 team in the state, the Lakers know they'll be the underdog — again — but they also know they've been there before and overcome it.
"You want to be playing well going into the playoffs and I think we're getting hot at the right time and we just want to continue it," Graver said.
"The way we move the ball, a lot of guys are getting the looks that they want and it just starts to roll," said senior post Grant Brauner. "And if that guy doesn't have that shot, we move it to the next guy and he does his thing and it all just works out."
"The key for us is to just keep believing in each other," Abere added. "It's just about positive self-talk and positive affirmations to other people. … The way that we are going to go about it is just bringing each other up and that's going to take us further than most people expect."
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