The West Linn boys basketball team is ready to chase a Class 6A state championship.
Now the real work begins.
The West Linn boys basketball team has accomplished a lot in the 2022-23 season — more on that in a moment — but unless the Lions cap the year with a state championship, they’re more likely to be remembered as an interesting footnote than as one of the best teams in Oregon history.
Looking to state
West Linn opens the Class 6A state tournament with a quarterfinal match-up against Central Catholic at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9, at the Chiles Center on the University of Portland campus.
The Lions say they’ll be ready.
“I feel like we’re doing pretty good. Our chemistry is really starting to click,” said West Linn senior guard Jackson Shelstad. “Everyone’s playing hard on both sides of the ball which is big for us.”
“I just think it’s more mental than anything, just fully locking in on our match-ups and our keys and just playing team ball together.” said Lion senior wing Mark Hamper.
“I feel we’re right at the top here,” added WL senior guard Adrian Mosley. “I feel (the key at state is) just going to be continuing to play as a team, not being selfish, because everybody on our team is just as good as anybody else on our team.”
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A look back
But before focusing on the 2023 state tournament, let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane with this year’s Lions. Here’s just a few bullet points encapsulating what West Linn has accomplished in 2022-23.
• The Lions opened the season with a 13-game winning streak.
• West Linn beat South Salem, Beaverton, California’s Modesto Christian and California’s St. John Bosco to win the Capitol City Classic at Willamette University back in December.
• The Lions followed up their Capitol City Classic victory by winning the Les Schwab Invitational at the end of December, beating Barlow, Tualatin, California’s Sierra Canyon (a team that included the sons of LeBron James, Scottie Pippen and Penny Hardaway) and Texas’ Duncanville — at the time the top-ranked team in the country — to become the first Oregon LSI champ since Lake Oswego in 2012.
• Following their victory in the Les Schwab Invitational, the Lions were ranked as the No. 1 high school boys basketball team in the country. MaxPreps currently has West Linn as the No. 12 team in America.
• After their loss to De La Salle, West Linn ripped off another 13 straight wins to earn their berth in the upcoming Class 6A state tournament.
• Over the course of the 2022-23 season, the Lions have beaten the following national powers: Sierra Canyon, Duncanville (second nationally on MaxPreps), Modesto Christian and St. John Bosco. They’ve also knocked off most of Oregon’s best, including: No. 2 Barlow, No. 3 Tualatin (three times), No. 6 Beaverton, No. 7 Mountainside, No. 11 West Salem, No. 13 Cleveland, No. 14 Tigard (twice), No. 16 Jesuit (twice) and No. 21 Lake Oswego (twice).
• Shelstad was named the Three Rivers League Player of the Year, Hamper was named TRL Defensive Player of the Year, coach Robert Key was named TRL Coach of the Year and Mosley also won a berth in the all-league first team.
• Shelstad was also selected to play in the Nike Hoop Summit on April 8 at the Moda Center in Portland.
A look ahead
The top-ranked Lions enter the game with a 26-1 overall record (the best in the state at any level), a 13-game winning streak (second-best at the 6A level behind Barlow’s 14 straight), without a loss in Oregon (their only setback was a 63-53 loss to De La Salle in California back on Jan. 16) and as champions of the Three Rivers League.
The ninth-ranked Rams, meanwhile, come into Thursday’s game with a 15-11 overall record and a four-game winning streak after placing third in the Mt. Hood Conference, the only 6A league with three teams in the state tournament.
If the Lions win their quarterfinal opener at Chiles, they will face the winner of the Gresham-Lincoln quarterfinal at 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 10. You can see the complete Class 6A state tournament bracket with all game times by clicking here.
“We’ve got a lot of competitive dudes on our team,” Shelstad said. “Offensively, it’s going to come, but defensively is where we need to lock in. (We just need to) keep playing our game, play together, and defensively, focus and lock in.”
Hamper said that his team’s depth and ball movement should pay big dividends at state.
“This team is not a selfish team at all,” he said. “We share the ball a lot so we’ve just got to keep doing that and keep believing in each other to hit shots.”
Mosley, meanwhile, said that the Lions’ hard-fought practices — led by Key and his assistants — would be the key to success at state.
“I’m just piggybacking off the practices,” Mosley said. “I give a lot to (Key) for having us go hard every day.”
Looking at the other side
As much as the Lions have accomplished and as well as they’re playing — and they’ve accomplished a lot and seem to be playing very well — there are challenges ahead.
In addition to the talent on their side of the bracket, the other side features No. 2 Barlow, No. 3 Tualatin, No. 6 Beaverton and No. 7 Mountainside.
While West Linn has beaten all four of those teams, Barlow is undeniably hot while Tualatin — the reigning state champion — gave the Lions their toughest test of the Les Schwab Invitational and has lost to West Linn by just four, six and nine points this year.
Hamper, however, remains confident in his team’s ability.
“I don’t see a way of team can stop us,” he said. “If we’re totally locked in on defense and sharing the ball well, I think it’s ours.”
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