BACK TO THE FUTURE ON THE BASKETBALL COURT
For the first time in a long time, Brennen McNabb is in position to make a real run on the basketball court.
He's a key player at point guard for the Chemeketa Community College Storm, which has just begun its league season.
McNabb, a 6-2 sophomore from Scappoose High, is back from injuries, first as a prep senior and again early this season, that detoured his basketball progress.
"I'm getting back into it," he says.
Chemeketa was 6-4 overall (5-1 at home) going into Thursday's Northwest Athletic Conference opener at Lane CC in Eugene.
In his first eight games this season, McNabb had six starts and averaged 17.4 minutes, with 5.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.
The Storm are going deep to their bench, trying to play fast and rotate players frequently. In nonleague action, no one averaged more than 22.1 minutes per game. McNabb says he's had enough action, though, to find a bit of a groove in his final year of community college ball.
"I feel like once I get going I should pick things up," he says.
Says Chemeketa coach David Abderhalden: "I'm excited for him to get his chance."
It's been a long time coming.
As a Scappoose senior, McNabb suffered a broken fibula and torn ligament with two minutes left in the Class 4A championship football game (the Indians lost 37-28 to Cascade at Hillsboro Stadium).
"Somebody got tackled into my ankle, and it just rolled," he recalls.
He had to sit out his season season of basketball, and the injury slowed both his recruitment by colleges and then his ability to contribute at Chemeketa.
"I was talking to a couple of four-year schools a little, but after not playing my senior year, I lost connection," he says. "I still had a couple of opportunities, but decided it would be best to go to junior college."
Abderhalden, Chemeketa's 17th-year coach, says McNabb caught his interest coming from Scappoose, and despite the senior-year injury, because "there were a lot of intangibles about the kid that we loved — his toughness, fearlessnes, you knew he had some leadership abilities."
Also, Abderhalden says, "you noticed how he approached his senior season — he postponed his surgery so he could go to the first game and be with his teammates. I've been doing this for 26 years, and that kind of stuff carries a lot of weight with me."
McNabb graduated from Scappoose in 2016, played some hoops for Chemeketa as a freshman, and then decided to sit out last season.
"Freshman year was good — I had a solid year, started most of it and averaged about 10 points per game, and we were one game short of making the playoffs," he says. "But I just wanted to take the year off to work on my game and get bigger and stronger."
The 6-1 McNabb is now at 165 pounds, up 15 from his weight as a Chemeketa freshman.
"I'm more physical now," he says, "and the year off gave my ankle more time to heal. We lifted weights and ate. It did suck at times, and it was a grind, but I think it was worth it."
A minor injury to the other ankle early this season kept him out of a couple games, but he's back been in action since Dec. 14.
McNabb was all-state and all-state tournament when Scappoose captured the 4A basketball title in 2015. He was more of a combo guard/shooting guard for the Indians. His senior year, he was supposed to play mostly at the point.
Chemeketa's still is more up-tempo.
"We want to run and get points, get buckets, push it in transition," he says. "It's fun. We sub players in and our because we're running and everyone's getting tired. We try to play 12 people.
"My junior year at Scappoose, we rotated only about seven guys. We had two bigs that were pretty good, so we slowed it down and tried to work the ball inside-out. It was a lot different than what we do do at Chemeketa."
McNabb says he thinks he can be "a knockdown 3-point shooter and a good distributor of the ball to my teammates. And, defensively, I feel like I'm pretty solid." As for what he most needs to work on, "I feel like I could be a little better finisher, and my midrange shot isn't as good as it should be."
Abderhalden says McNabb "has taken his game to a level as a point guard that he wasn't at in high school. He's made a lot of improvements. He's developed a good overall game.
"He has more of a pass-first mentality off the drive, but he's quick to take an open jump shot, and he's gotten to where he can score at all three levels now; he didn't have a ton of a midrange game when he got here, or at least he didn't use it.
"He's a solid defender. We still work on the discipline of not reaching at different times, but he's intelligent. He may not be the quickest or most explosive kid, but he understands the game and angles, and tends to put himself in the right positions."
The Storm's league home opener is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against Mt. Hood CC.
Chemeketa then will play Southwestern Oregon CC in Salem on Jan. 12, before a trip to Portland CC and a game in the PCC Cascade campus gym on Jan. 16.
The regular season continues through March 2.
The top four teams in each of four NWAC divisions will advance to the playoffs.
"Top to bottom, the coach says all the teams are pretty solid, so we're going to have to bring it every night," McNabb says.
Chemeketa is one of nine teams in the South Division. Lane is 12-1, Clackamas 9-2 and Clark 7-3. But even Portland, off to a 3-8 start, traditionally has been formidable and a playoff team in recent years.
"I feel like if we can continue to progress, we can put ourselves in position to make it," Abderhalden says. "I think our depth is a positive. We can handle an injury or two and not skip a beat; we don't have a lot of dropoff in our lineup, 1 to 12. I think we have the components to be right there."
McNabb lives about 10 minutes off campus in an apartment with two teammates. He gets to come home for the weekend every now and then, and was able to enjoy the holiday break with family in Scappoose, as the Storm's final game of December came on the 16th.
He plans to get an associate degree and hasn't "officially decided what I'm going to major in."
Eventually being a teacher and coach "is definitely something I'm leaning toward, but I haven't really planned out how I'm going to do it ... maybe get a business degree and then a teaching degree. I would like to coach basketball. But I'd like to play more after here, but I'm not sure where."