In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight’s Michael Visenberg outlines five narratives surrounding the 25th annual Les Schwab Invitational, after spending five days on the ground covering the event in Hillsboro, Oregon, from December 26-30, 2021:
LSI Starting Five: Storylines from the 2021 Les Schwab Invitational
Since 1996, Oregon has hosted a post-Christmas basketball tournament, proudly showcasing some of the state’s top players against some national level programs. The alumni list for the Les Schwab Invitational (LSI) overflows with former McDonald’s All-Americans, most of whom went on to great NCAA success and a bunch who eventually played in the NBA. 2021 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Les Schwab, which has typically been a four-day tournament where teams each play four games with both a consolation and winners’ bracket champion being crowned. While past winners have tended to be high school power houses from out of state, there have certainly been upsets as well as some closely-contested showdowns in the final days of the tournament.
Having moved back to Portland in 2015, I was able to see Markelle Fultz of DeMatha Catholic (MD) have an incredibly impressive performance, albeit coming up short to Oak Hill Academy (VA). That next year was an epic head-to-head matchup of players who were at the top of their class in Michael Porter, Jr. (Nathan Hale/WA) and Marvin Bagley, Jr. (Sierra Canyon/CA), who both were out of this world all tournament long. While Sierra Canyon and Bagley, Jr. started the game off looking like they would take it home, Porter, Jr. and Hale got the better of the matchup, 67-65. Nathan Hale eventually went on to go undefeated that season, powered by Porter, Jr. and his brother, Jontay.
2017 saw Oak Hill Academy win LSI once again, behind MVP Keldon Johnson, who had help from Keyontae Johnson (Florida), Will Richardson (Oregon) and David McCormack (Kansas). In 2018, University School had a couple of top high school talents in Vernon Carey, Jr. (Duke, drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 2020) and Scottie Barnes (Florida State, drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2021). However, Sierra Canyon School took home the 2018 title behind a tremendous high school defense. It featured eventual draft picks in Cassius Stanley (Duke) and Kenyon Martin, Jr. (of which Martin Jr. was named All-Tournament) and possible draft hopefuls in Scotty Pippen Jr. (Vanderbilt) and Christian Koloko (Arizona). The 2018 Sierra Canyon School also featured a very impressive freshman in Amari Bailey, who now stands near the top of the 2022 high school class.
In 2019, Mater Dei (CA) won decisively, with Devin Askew taking MVP honors before eventually joining Kentucky and then transferring to Texas. That year also saw an Eastside Catholic (WA) team upset Bishop Gorman (NV) in the quarterfinals. Eastside Catholic was led by Shane Nowell and eventual McDonald’s All-American Nolan Hickman, who are now at Arizona and Gonzaga, respectively. However, JT Tuimoloau, one of the top defensive end prospects who now plays football at Ohio State, was the catalyst behind their take down of Gorman.
With 2020 unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19, the tournament came back in 2021 despite some major hurdles. In the end, there were close games, more than several college coaches in the building, and a glimpse into some teams who will be competing for Oregon 6A state tournament honors. Below, I’ve outlined just a handful of the many intriguing narratives and takeaways from the 2021 Les Schwab Invitational, presented by Express Employment Professionals.
Link Academy is a legitimate GEICO Nationals contender
While the 2018 Sierra Canyon squad was the most impressive high school defense I have seen at LSI, Missouri’s Link Academy must enter the conversation after what they showed this year. They start four players over 6’6” that all have above-average quickness for their position, plus take a lot of pride on that end of the floor. They have length, strength, and depth, along with competent ball handling and shooting from key positions. All four games featured a different leading scorer from Link, though it was clear that the team relied on a few key catalysts.
Link has a star in Arkansas commit Jordan Walsh, who was named the tournament MVP. Incredibly versatile at 6’6” with an over 7-foot wingspan, Walsh can get to the basket, is a dynamic transition creator with his outlet passing and open floor handle, while finishing above the rim and providing defensive intensity. There’s simply not a lot he cannot do. They also have combo forward Julian Phillips, an LSU commit who also displayed some bounce, though was used often as an off-ball player showing his soft touch from the perimeter, hitting the valuable corner three at a high rate. It’s almost unfair that they throw Omaha Biliew into the fray, who showed his ability to recover defensively, an improving jump shot and his ability to play within the flow of the offense.
Trey Green has a strong pull-up game and was a real leader and communicator throughout the tournament. Tarris Reed, Jr. saved his best game for last, going for 20 points in the 83-60 championship game win over Tualatin (OR), catapulting himself into the all-tournament team. Jordan Ross led the team in scoring in their game two win over Jesuit, plus showed he is confident in running the show and setting up teammates. Another luxury was having Felix Okpara come off the bench, as he is Link Academy’s top rim protector and can rim run, finish around the basket.
Much like the NCAA, this year's GEICO Nationals looks to be very wide open, with Sunrise Christian (KS), Montverde Academy (FL), IMG Academy (FL), Duncanville (TX), Richardson (TX), among others, who will vie to capture the 2022 title. While this is Link Academy’s first season in existence, the job the school, coach Rodney Perry and his staff have done putting this team together is incredibly impressive. They finished 2021 at 21-0 and emphatically showed at LSI that they have the group to compete among the nation’s best.
Less depth did not mean a lesser LSI
During the time of COVID-19, many sporting leagues have been forced to adjust for safety. It unfortunately hit the Les Schwab Invitational this year, forcing four teams to pull out at the last minute. Gonzaga College of DC, a MaxPreps top-10 national team and Isidore Newman of Louisiana, both could not make the trip to Oregon, making Link Academy the lone out-of-state team. COVID-19 issues also forced a couple of strong Oregon teams to miss the tournament, in West Linn and Grant. Luckily, Prime Time Sports had some Oregon schools that could fill the spots, with Canby, David Douglas, Evergreen, and Sherwood stepping up to take the spots. In a world that has been hit by the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and swells of cases, the fact this tournament still was able to go off was impressive. It was a definite shame not to have the typical depth, though just great to have the tournament back. A single game was cancelled due to weather issues, however getting 31 out of a possible 32 games to go off was a major win for Les Schwab Invitational, which still was a major success after a one-year hiatus.
Parity amongst Oregon’s 6A title contenders
There is no “real” defending 6A state champion in Oregon this year, as last year the state playoffs were limited to four different brackets with eight teams in each bracket. Beaverton won the Red Bracket, Jefferson the Blue Bracket, Ida Wells won the Green Bracket and Sunset won the Black Bracket. Historically, we’ve often seen eventual state championship favorites show out in the Les Schwab Invitational. If this tournament was any indication, Tualatin may be the favorite. They are led by a trio of guards in All-Tournament player Noah Ogoli, Malik Ross and 2023 prospect Josiah Lake. They have size, shooting and play strong defense. Even with Tualatin as the possible favorite, it looks like we could have several teams vying for the state title. Beaverton, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Central Catholic all finished with a single loss in the tournament. West Linn, who as mentioned above missed the tournament, has the favorite for state Gatorade Player of the Year in Jackson Shelstad and had a strong showing at the Iolani Classic. There are several teams legitimately contending for the title in 2022 and this event showed that they all could be in the thick of things come state tournament time.
Football players make a big impact on the hardwood
Central Catholic took home the state 6A tournament this year on the gridiron, capping off a 14-0 season with a win over a strong Tualatin team. While they lost a very close opening contest to Beaverton at the LSI, Central Catholic won the consolation bracket with some of their marquee football players leading the way. Riley Williams, one of the top 2023 tight end prospects in the nation, was a star in Cerebro Sports impact metric, C-RAM. He filled up the stat sheet, scoring 13.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3 apg, 2.8 spg and 1.8 bpg, on very solid shooting efficiency. As of now, it appears Williams is set to play NCAA football at a very high level. In the meantime, Central Catholic will go as far as Williams’ size, athleticism, ball handling and court vision can take them on the hardwood.
Malik Ross was named the 6A State Player of the Year as a running back for state runner-up Tualatin. Throughout LSI, Ross proved he could get into the paint consistently, was an adept passer and got to the free throw line regularly, while shooting 88% from the stripe. Based on his performance last week, Ross is much more than just a one-sport star.
Central Catholic also featured one of the LSI’s best athletes in wideout Jordan King, who played a 3-and-D role for them. Emar’rion Winston, the state’s top defensive prospect in 2022, also contributed off the bench for Central Catholic. To round out the football impact in the LSI, Oregon State offensive line commit Jacob Strand was a double-digit scorer for Canby over their four games. Certainly, this year’s LSI was a display of Oregon’s top athletes in more than one sport.
Underclassmen already among Oregon’s best
It may not have been shocking that the two "#LSI25" leading scorers were from in-state teams, however, it may have just been a tad surprising that they were both underclassmen: a sophomore in Roosevelt’s Terrence Hill, Jr. and a freshman in Lake Oswego’s Winters Grady.
Terrence Hill, Jr. is a 6’2” guard with range, a floater game and impeccable court vision. He shares the backcourt with a couple of his fellow 2024’s in the diminutive Deante Strickland Hustle Award winner, Utrillo Morris and Chance White, who has some real scoring ability, as well. Hill, Jr. is comfortable pulling from deep range, he can take opponents off the bounce and he’s dangerous as an off-ball shooter and scorer, as well. He had two 30-plus point games, including a tournament high 36-points.
At 6’6” with a soft touch, ability as a ball handler and deep range on his jumper, Winters Grady really put on a show for Lake Oswego. The Lakers came up short in every game besides their opener, though Grady kept them competitive and averaged 24.5 points per game, second only to Hill Jr.’s 26.8 average for the tournament. Recruiting and interest is still taking shape for both, but they put themselves on the radar with every coach who came into the gym. They were also both named to the LSI All-Tournament team.
Another freshman had some huge moments, as Barlow’s Jalen Atkins made his high school debut in the LSI. After a rough first game, he went off for 23 points in a quarterfinal win over Roosevelt, displaying his pull-up game and using his strength to get to his spots. Against Link Academy, Atkins scored four of his six three pointers in the game in the second quarter, where Barlow won the quarter 24-14. Some of the triples were very well defended and from far beyond the high school three-point line. He has the makings of a possible high major prospect, with some impressive early offers and interest.
Tualatin has its sixth man in 2024 forward Jaden Steppe. With great post footwork, a nice touch near the basket and some definite confidence, Steppe is a legitimate 6’7” with developing ball skills. He was Tualatin’s third-leading scorer for the event, behind senior guards Noah Ogoli and Malik Ross. It should be his turn soon enough, as he’s shown very intriguing early signs. Once he becomes more comfortable with his perimeter skills, he could be a major matchup issue. Coaches had to love what they saw in the finale with Link Academy, where he went for 12 points and 7 rebounds as he played with a real sense of urgency in his minutes.
Needless to say, there is a lot to look forward to as we look toward the future of Oregon high school basketball. Underclassmen, especially locals, have rarely been named to the All-Tournament team or made such high-level contributions. What was on display in 2021 should lead to major excitement for what’s to come at the Les Schwab Invitational in 2022 and beyond.