'I feel like I'm 31:' Pat Strickland returns to coach Jefferson boys basketball
It wasn't quite like the famous Michael Jordan fax to the Chicago Bulls announcing he was back in 1995, but Pat Strickland made his announcement short and sweet.
In a text to Prep Hoops Oregon on July 12, the former Jefferson High boys basketball coach announced his return to the Democrats sideline for the upcoming season after retiring during last year's offseason.
"I'm excited to be back at the most decorated high school basketball program in the state of Oregon," the text read, followed by five trophy emojis to symbolize the five state titles Strickland led the Demos to during his first tenure.
Strickland first took over in Northeast Portland for the 2008-2009 season where he led the Demos to back-to-back state titles after they had also won in the 2007-2008 season.
The run turned into a three-peat with another state title in 2010. Three more titles came in 2013, 2014 and 2017 (this one at the 6A level with the other four at 5A) along with two more title game appearances in 2018 and 2019.
Strickland hung it up with a record of 274-71 as head coach, along with a 1989 state title at then Wilson High School (Now Ida B. Wells) as a player.
BREAKING NEWS: It's official - Pat Strickland is back as the head coach at @DemoBoysHoop.— Prep Hoops Oregon (@PrepHoopsOR) July 12, 2022
The 5-time state championship coach sent @PrepHoopsOR this note to inform us of his return. pic.twitter.com/usPyHDiIo0
That connection back to his high school days is how Strickland spent part of his retirement. One of his closest friends is Damon Stoudamire, who also played on that 1989 state title team and is currently an assistant coach on the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics, coached by former Jefferson star Ime Udoka, have notably become the "Portland" Celtics with Udoka filling his bench with people connecting back to the Rose City, and Strickland got a chance to see it up close.
"I went to a couple playoff series, a couple games throughout the year," Strickland said. "They struggled early on. I went to this Laker game in LA and I'm having dinner with Damon and I was like, 'Hey man, I don't know if you guys are that good.' He was like, 'We need a little more time still Strick,' and low and behold that time came in handy."
Of course, the Celtics turned it around halfway through the year and rode that to an Eastern Conference title and a spot in the NBA Finals before falling to Golden State in six games.
Due to some of the traveling and family time, Strickland said he only went to a couple high school games all season and truly had a year away from the scene.
"I got to travel and do some other things as well," Strickland said. "I had nothing to do and I got the itch. I was getting pushed from a bunch of different other angles as well. I said, 'What the heck, why not come back and give it another shot?'"
Jefferson struggled last year with an inexperienced lineup after some players departed from the Demos as well, finishing 2-21 overall.
Sanborne Melson is expected to be back after not playing last year as a junior, and the Demos have two transfers from 3A powerhouse De La Salle North Catholic in TJ Latu and Quincy Aranda. Donavon Ferguson from Gresham has also made the move to NE Portland.
On top of the transfers, Strickland believes the freshmen coming into the program this year will be some of the area's best.
"Every year, we were getting the best freshmen and that would have a trickle down effect for other guys coming too," Strickland said. "This year, I feel like we got the best freshmen coming in."
The task is still a tall one when looking around the rest of the Portland Interscholastic League. Last season, the PIL was the deepest it has been in years with Cleveland winning the league title for the first time in 60 years after surviving a five-team slugfest with Roosevelt, Lincoln, Grant and Benson (who all made the playoffs as well).
There might be more competition than Strickland saw during his first run at Jefferson, but it's nothing the five-time state champion coach is backing down from.
"I felt like from what I read and the few games I saw, I thought the PIL was definitely the best league and I anticipate the PIL will be the best league this year," Strickland said. "I know they're probably counting Jeff out, but we're gonna be very competitive, more competitive than people think."
Folks around Portland basketball should expect nothing less from Strickland, who's five state titles as a coach are tied for the third most in Oregon history from the bench.
But even sometimes the best need a little vacation time. A year has passed and now Strickland is ready to get back to teaching the game and chasing more titles once more from the bench.
"I'm 51 years old, I feel like I'm 31, man," Strickland said. "I'm rejuvenated, and there's no wavering if I want to come back. I'm back and I'm just excited to get a new crop of kids.
"Everyone but Sanborne is gonna be a kid who hasn't played for me before. I feel like there's some new blood and I'm excited to get in there and start teaching."
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