For Reichle family and Wilsonville, March was a month to remember
Last year, with the world shut down and athletic teams splintered at the onset of the pandemic, the Reichle brothers were cooped up at their parents' home in Wilsonville with little to do but continue a family tradition: unceasing competition.
In one-on-one games at outdoor basketball courts nearby, Gabe says he bested his older brother, Zach, the majority of the time, while Zach disagrees and says he went easy on him. Off the court, along with the youngest brother Jake and their dad Bill, everything from who can eat more food at dinner to who can touch the car across the street first is a battle.
"Of course there is a little bit of pushing and shoving with four alpha males in the house," Bill said. "There was enough trash talking to build you a bridge."
But when it's time to root for each other, they do that, too. And there was plenty to celebrate this March.
Zach, a 2017 Wilsonville High School graduate, was a starter on the Oregon State University men's basketball team that advanced to the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament, while Gabe, a 2020 Wilsonville High graduate, was a member of a University of Oregon team that reached the Sweet 16.
"It does come with a lot of pride," Gabe said. "I dreamed of being here with my brother. I never would have thought it would actually happen."
Zach was named the Oregon Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year in 2017 after the second of back-to-back state titles for Wilsonville, capping the most decorated career in program history. In college, his minutes steadily increased, culminating with a starting gig and leadership role as a senior.
Gabe, meanwhile, was a First Team All-State selection his senior year at WHS, won a pair of high school state titles and had a chance at a third before his team's run was cut short in the semifinals when the state tournament ended abruptly due to the pandemic.
"Last year's tournament, there's nothing you can do about that. You have to learn to live with that one. Over time it has gotten easier and easier to think about it," he said.
Gabe decided to become a walk-on (meaning he's not a scholarship player) for the Oregon team in part after seeing how much Zach had enjoyed his time at OSU. This year, Gabe mostly cheered on his teammates and spent his time off in the gym and weight room.
"Everyone at this level are really great athletes and the game is so much faster. Getting used to that is probably the biggest thing," he said.
For Bill, his sons' NCAA tournament runs are different in that he expected Oregon to go far, whereas the Beavers' stellar play surprised him. OSU was projected to finish last in the Pac-12 prior to the season and braved some early struggles. Nevertheless, the Beavers won the last few games of the regular season and then the Pac-12 tournament to earn a March Madness berth. Zach said his team always had the talent to be formidable, but the key was learning to play unselfishly and blend their talents into a cohesive unit.
"We came together and said, 'Listen, we're making it to the NCAA tournament no matter how we do it. We're going to give it our all and do what we do. Go out and ball.' Us players said that to each other and spoke it into existence," Zach said.
The tournament experience was unlike any other in history. It took place in a "bubble" in Indianapolis with fewer fans in attendance and players staying in their hotel rooms the whole time unless they were playing or practicing. Including the Pac-12 tournament, they essentially spent the majority of three weeks in a hotel room. And the brothers rarely saw each other except in the lobby before games.
"When you're in a hotel room all day besides two-and-a-half to three hours a day, you spend a lot of time on the phone, talk to family a lot, Gabe a lot, so as not to feel alone, I guess," Zach said.
But when they weren't in the hotel, they were making history on the court. As the No. 11 seed, Zach's Beavers first routed No. 6 Tennessee 70-56, a game where Zach hit a 3-pointer well beyond the 3-point-line (causing social media hysteria) and finished with 10 points. The Beavers then neutralized Cade Cunningham (thought to be the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft) and Oklahoma State in the next round, followed by a win over Loyola Chicago in the Sweet 16. Before the tournament, the Beavers hadn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1982.
"Overall I was just proud," Gabe said of watching his brother. "He's my biggest role model and I have always looked up to him. Seeing him out there in the Elite 8, Sweet 16 and the rest of the tournament, it was cool to see and I feel like if anyone deserved to be out there, it was him."
Wilsonville High School boys basketball coach Chris Roche, who coached Zach and Gabe throughout their prep careers, said a win over Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament exemplified Zach's maturation as a player. In that game, he aptly defended star guard Chris Duarte and scored 12 points.
"I thought Zach's stellar defense, timely shooting, toughness and grit were huge in that game ... and to me, it kind of embodied the type of impactful Pac-12 player he became," Roche wrote via email.
Gabe's Ducks, meanwhile, advanced to the second round automatically (their first round game was declared "no contest" due to COVID-19 issues) before upsetting No. 2 seed Iowa 95-80.
"For me, I was proud of the challenge he took on in going to Oregon, and I really enjoyed seeing him lead and cheer on his teammates in the tournament," Roche wrote of Gabe. "He was not in a position to play in the games just yet for them this year, but that did not deter how invested he was, how much he led, the enthusiasm he showed."
Bill and his wife Sarah watched the first couple rounds from home before booking their flights for the Sweet 16. Bill still thinks of himself as a coach of his sons; he counts the number of breaths they take before a free throw and says he knows whether the ball will swish through the hoop depending on their setup. Though he's normally jovial, social interaction during his sons' games is an inconvenience to avoid.
"We were on pins and needles. We didn't want to be around anyone else. We were locked in and focused," he said of watching the tournament.
The Ducks ended up losing in the Sweet 16 to USC, while the Beavers fell to Houston in the Elite 8. For Zach, the loss ended what could be his final season in a Beaver uniform. Emotions that had been bottled up during a tough year poured out of him, but he also felt satisfaction in what his team had accomplished.
"There were a bunch of mixed emotions after the game," Zach said.
Next year, Gabe will continue to work on his game and his schoolwork at Oregon while Zach has a tough decision to make. He could play one more year at OSU, transfer to another school, play professionally overseas or quit the game altogether. Zach is a year away from finishing his master's degree in supply chain and logistics management.
"Basketball has been great to me and not playing was something that was very hard to accept at one point, but now I have accepted it more and … it's a real route I could take because I (could) set myself up off the court," he said.
For Roche, the Wildcat program being sidelined for essentially a year has been "hard on everybody." But watching two alumni reach the pinnacle of college hoops sparked joy and celebration.
"It's not often (that) many high school programs have a guy playing in that event; to have two was so fun. Then, to think they are brothers from the same family ... amazing. I am happy for them and grateful for the joy and pride they brought our program and community," Roche wrote.
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