North Marion boys reflect on lost season
The North Marion boys basketball team had put it all together.
A year removed from a league title and a fourth-place finish in the state quarterfinal tournament, the Huskies were able to retool on the fly and come back even stronger this season.
Behind the play of two-time Conference Player of the Year Sergio Jimenez, North Marion featured a seven-man squad of seniors that burst out of the gate in December, established themselves as one of the top 4A teams in the state and had every intention of returning to the state championship game for the first time since 2014.
However, in the span of 12 hours last week, the title hopes of the Huskies and the seven other quarterfinalist programs were dashed after the Oregon School Activities Association decided to cancel the remainder of this year's Winter State Championship games due to the continuing spread of COVID-19.
"Obviously it's disappointing," North Marion head coach Tully Wagner said. "I'm not going to claim to be any type of authority on health or the coronavirus, so I'm going to trust that the right decision was made in that regard.
"I don't have any type of anger or animosity toward the decision being made not to play. If that's what's truly best for the kids, that's what matters."
The decision to cancel to state quarterfinal tournament came the same day the No. 3 Huskies (20-5) were scheduled to tip-off against the No. 6 Woodburn Bulldogs (18-7) in a rematch of the season opener between the two teams.
Wagner was at the state tournament site in Forest Grove when the decision was announced. Several members of the team had already received the news before assistant coach Wade Murray was able to meet with the team and let them know the season was coming to an end prematurely.
"We put in all the months of work, and for most of my guys, (it was) years of work," Wagner said. "For them not to get the chance to prove what they're capable of in our last tournament is super disappointing, and my heart goes out to them."
The Huskies' championship-caliber season was a bit of a surprise for everyone — except maybe the players themselves — after the team graduated the bulk of its outside shooting that was so crucial to the program's success in last year's fourth-place finish to the season.
But rather than attempt to duplicate that model, North Marion shifted course this year, relying on its bevy of tall, athletic wings, forwards and posts to outrun and outgun the opposition.
This year's Huskies were the epitome of breakneck transition offense, using its defensive stops to fuel an offensive machine that led all 4A programs in scoring and stood atop the 4A rankings for the majority of the regular season.
"I don't want to say that it was surprising, but it was cool to be able to use our strength of being able to play positionless," Wagner said. "Everybody being an athlete to get out and run, and see how that translated into us really having no problem scoring the ball."
In fact, the team was so good on offense that it inadvertently overshadowed the Huskies' underrated defense. North Marion's 1,426 points allowed was the second-most in the Tri-Valley Conference behind last-place Estacada and was in the bottom quarter of 4A teams.
The team's penchant for giving up 60 or more points was often vexing to the North Marion coaching staff who knew defense was going to be the key to a successful championship run. But a closer look at the numbers showed that the Huskies' defensive numbers were inflated simply due to how fast the team played.
"If you look at some of the advanced metrics of our defense, on a points-per-possession basis, it was actually really good," Wagner said. "You don't see that in the score because we play so fast and there were so many possessions in the game. We were much better than we realized."
Ultimately, though, Wagner won't remember this year's team for the number of games they eclipsed 80 points (4) or 70 points (14), but for the athletes that worked so hard to build a winning program.
"It's all been non-basketball stuff," Wagner said. "It's all the guys and how goofy they have can be at times. How locked in they have been at times. And how not locked in at times. Just their different personalities and how we could handle different situations differently.
"As a coach, those are the things you usually remember more than the basketball stuff. Seeing guys become better versions of themselves is a positive."
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