Reese Ericson, Zeke Viuhkola, Cali Denson finish high school hoop in WAVOR games
They are the best.
And when you're the best — like Lakeridge's Reese Ericson, West Linn's Zeke Viuhkola and Milwaukie's Cali Denson are — you want to face the best.
And that's just what this trio of senior basketball stars got to do on Sunday, April 3 — they tested themselves against the best in the 2022 WAVOR games (formerly the Northwest Shootout), a pair of Oregon vs. Washington all-star contests held at Liberty High School.
While neither Oregon team came away with a win — the Washington girls beat Oregon 126-91 and the Washington boys topped Oregon 128-98 — those results did little to steal the luster from the Oregon stars' high school finales.
"It was so fun," said Ericson, who will play next year at the United States Military Academy at West Point. "I played with, I think, nine of these 11 girls before. It was so fun. We've played against each other for the last 17 or 18 years of our lives and I'm very happy."
"It was definitely a real honor to play in this game," said Viuhkola, who has yet to make his college decision. "I was glad I was able to have such a good time with these guys."
"It was a lot of fun," added Denson, who will play at a prep school next year, then make the transition to college. "This is the first time in a lot of years that I've gotten to play with these girls again because we used to be teammates, a lot of us. It was cool getting back together and having a lot of fun in the last game."
Washington used its talent — its roster included seven Division I commits (compared to just four from Oregon) — size, defense and rebounding to power past Oregon in the day's first game.
Despite the loss, Oregon's stars loved the experience.
"It was very fun," said Ericson, who finished with 11 points (on 4 of 7 shooting from the field, including three 3-pointers), along with four rebounds and nine assists. "To be out there … playing with so many good players, it showed we had some real hoopers out there."
"At the beginning of the game, I don't think they missed a single shot," said Denson — Oregon's second all-time leading scorer — who finished with seven points (on 2 of 6 shooting from the field, including one 3-pointer and a 2 of 2 day at the foul line), along with two rebounds, two assists and one steal. "Everything was going in. That was crazy to see. It's a game of runs and they made good runs."
Washington outrebounded Oregon by 17 boards, held Oregon to 39% shooting (while hitting 55% of its own shots), outscored Oregon by 40 points in the paint, outscored Oregon 25-6 off turnovers, 19-8 on second-chance points and 23-2 on fast breaks.
Despite the final score, the game — which returned after a two-year absence forced by COVID-19 restrictions — served as a glorious send-off for Ericson and Denson.
"We had a good time. It was a lot of fun," Ericson said. "It's exciting. It's a great way to send off. I'm very excited for the next step."
Denson, meanwhile, said that the experience helped her continue her development as a player and leader.
"It was cool," she said. "I think I've gotten better at becoming a leader and opening my mouth more. I used to be pretty introverted, but I think I've stepped out of my comfort zone a lot."
The boys game followed a similar arc, with Washington dominating the boards (61-42), shooting (51%-45%), points in the paint (73-49), points off turnovers (25-9) and second-chance points (27-8) to win big at Liberty.
None of that, however, detracted from the experience for Viuhkola, a first-team all-Three Rivers League selection who helped West Linn to take third in the Class 6A state tournament.
"The best part was just getting to hang out and getting to know each other a little bit, talking hoops and stuff," said Viuhkola, who finished with three points (on 1 of 5 shooting from the field, including one 3-pointer), along with two rebounds and one blocked shot.
Beyond that, Viuhkola said that Sunday's game provided a look ahead to what playing on a talent-filled college roster might look like.
"It was a big adjustment," he said. "None of us are used to coming off the bench or playing limited minutes, but it's probably going to happen next year so we have to be able to come in and still … perform. It gives a really good look at what college might be like."
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