It's highly unlikely that South Medford's Kyle Singler or Lake Oswego's Kevin Love will get a "Thank You" card from the Oregon School Activities Association, but the dynamic duo certainly deserve some sort of recognition.
From their freshman campaigns to this year's last hurrah, Singler and Love have been pivotal in raising the level of national interest in Oregon boys basketball. They are considered two of the top five seniors in the nation by just about every ranking source available, and each have been proclaimed by at least one pollster as their top recruit in the nation for the Class of 2007.
WHEN, WHERE: Today through Saturday, McArthur Court in Eugene
Their presence alone has provided a certain hysteria come state tournament time since the 2004 season, and this year the hype has reached a crescendo as fans flock to Eugene's McArthur Court this week for their last chance at seeing Singler and Love in prep competition.
"I think the state tournament a year ago made a ton of money, and they're going to make a ton of money again primarily because of these kids," says South Medford coach Dennis Murphy, whose team lost 59-57 to Lake Oswego in last year's state championship.
As of Wednesday afternoon, all the $95 reserved season tickets are sold out for the state tournament, which begins today and runs through Saturday. Some preferred session and general admission ticket opportunities are expected to remain available through Saturday morning, but the vantage point obviously dwindles with each passing day for the 9,000-seat venue. Updated ticket information can be attained on the internet at osaa.org.
"Obviously this year is one of the most anticipated tournaments in years, and I think attendance will reflect that," says Steve Walker, sports information director for the OSAA.
Whether top-ranked Lake Oswego and No. 2 South Medford can live up to their billing and give the state a fitting sendoff remains to be seen. The two teams are on the opposite side of the eight-team bracket, and would need to win today and Friday to have a shot at another championship showdown.
"There's a lot of people who want to see that game," says the Duke-bound Singler. "It's on us to get there and Lake Oswego to get there. We both have to play well for two games to make that happen."
South Medford (24-3) opens at 8:15 tonight against Grant (17-8), while Lake Oswego (24-1) squares off against No. 5 Westview (21-5) at 3:15 p.m. South is ranked No. 17 in the nation by USA Today, while Lake Oswego is No. 25.
In the other quarterfinal on the Panthers' side of the bracket, No. 3 Canby (22-5) plays No. 4 Jesuit (22-3) at 6:30 p.m. On the Lakers' side of the bracket, No. 9 McKay (21-5) takes on No. 6 Sheldon (20-6) to open the 6A festivities at 1:30 p.m.
The Class 5A boys basketball state tournament is also being played at Mac Court through Saturday.
While a good portion of basketball fans may want to see a certain matchup in Saturday night's 6A final, Murphy says the only guarantee in the state tournament is that there is no such thing.
"You can't get caught up in anything else or take anything for granted," says the 19th-year coach. "You've got eight teams who have all worked very hard and earned their right to be there, and they're all thinking the same thing. They all want to play Saturday night."
And all are just as capable as the other of making it to that point.
"This is the best talent in Oregon in a long while," says Love, who has signed with UCLA. "Whatever team comes out on top this weekend should really feel special."
The word "special" has certainly been worn out over the years in describing Singler and Love. The two first met as seventh graders and struck up a friendship that spilled over to dominating runs through the AAU circuit until the summer before their junior years in high school.
"We just hit it off from there and have been friends ever since," says Love, who stands 6-10 and 255 pounds. "It's been tremendous to see how we've both developed. Kyle has a great family and is an awesome player and South Medford's a great team."
When Love switched from the Nike-based Portland Legends AAU team to Reebok's Southern California All-Stars in 2005, the two didn't have the same access as before. They still maintain a solid relationship even though their hectic schedules rarely put them in the same place at the same time.
"Our conversations have kind of dwindled but we're still friends and we still admire each other on the court," says the 6-9, 215-pound Singler. "Kevin's just such a great player and brings so much to the floor. He makes his teammates better, which is a great trait to have."
Both agree that stepping out of each other's shadow has been beneficial, but that doesn't mean they don't still get grouped together — especially when it involves projections for each in high school, college and potentially the NBA.
"We're totally different players but people still try to compare us," says Love. "We're such different players, the comparisons are unfair to both of us."
When not compared to one another, each has had the honor of being compared to some NBA greats. Love has been dubbed one of the best low posts to come out of high school in decades along the lines of Wes Unseld and Bill Walton, while Singler's versatility on the court has drawn comparison to Larry Bird and Dirk Nowitzki.
"They've brought a lot of recognition to Oregon with their national rankings, and rightfully so, too," says Lake Oswego coach Mark Shoff. "With Kevin, I'm prejudiced of course, but you can throw Kyle into that, too. They have dominated their positions like very few before them. Kyle is just so versatile, and Kevin is just such a tremendous presence. With a state this small, you probably won't see something like this again."
But with the multitudes of praise have also come almost as many nay-sayers who are simply tired about hearing the exploits of Love and Singler.
"I think there's a lot of jealousy and a lot of people will be glad when the state tournament's over and Kyle's at Duke and Kevin's at UCLA," adds Shoff. "But I know two people who will be awfully sad when that happens, and that's Dennis Murphy and myself. To be able to coach a guy like Kevin or Kyle is something special. To have two kids of that magnitude just doesn't come around that often."
Nor does it come around by happenstance. Both players have put in the extra time year-round to take their game to the next level, and both remain fierce competitors.
"You look at both Kyle and Kevin and the statistics they've put up over their four years and really this year would've been easy for both to sit back and say I'm going to Duke and UCLA so why bother to put in the work, but neither one did," says Shoff. "They're so competitive, and I think that's why they're in the top five in the nation because they truly are great players and want to compete at the highest level."
Which is why both are cautious about putting too much stake in projections, and concentrating on the challenge put forth today in the quarterfinals.
"You can't look past any team because any team can beat you on a given night," says Singler. "The state tournament is in a different light than any other tournament. Every game's going to be close and you just have to be prepared for that."
"It's all about the little things you do now," says the center, who has the chance to become the state's all-time leading scorer this week. "You need some luck on your side and the ball to bounce your way. You almost have to be perfect to win a state championship. Like the NCAA Tournament ... any dog can have its day."
Both players just hope their day is Saturday, and their game isn't until the end.
"For us, if we win it, we win it," says Singler. "Whoever we beat doesn't really matter as long as we get that state championship. It just would be kinda frosting on the cake if we do play Lake Oswego in the championship game, but it doesn't really matter when it comes down to that point."
At the very least, Singler's final season at South Medford has already been a memorable one.
"My senior season has been a blast," he says. "Playing with my brother (E.J.) and two cousins (Mitch Singler and Griff Boyd) has just been a real treat. The on- and off-court experiences have been second to none. I'm having more fun than I ever had my past three years."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org