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It's been some opening act for Vanderhoff

Former South star is on fire for WOU

Mike Vanderhoff is happy to be at Western Oregon University and even happier to be back playing basketball.

And that's making for some unhappy opponents.

The former South Medford High School standout, who transferred to Western Oregon from Portland State last spring but didn't become eligible to play until December, has averaged more than 23 points in the 10 games he's played.

And in consecutive weeks, he was named the Pacific Northwest Region's Player of the Week.

Mike's a valuable player and it's great to have him in the mix, says Tom Kelly, the coach of the Wolves, who have won five of their past six games. He's a good shooter and scorer, but he does so many other things that help a team win.

We're thrilled to have him.

Vanderhoff essentially hadn't played in a game for 20 months when he took the court for the Wolves on Dec. 12.

He shot poorly in that contest -- 8-for-24 from the field -- and the Wolves suffered a 83-77 loss to Western Baptist.

But since then, the 6-foot, 180-pound sophomore has nearly worn out the nets, topping the 20-point mark six straight times, including a 33-point outburst against Lewis and Clark State last Saturday.

That first game felt a little weird, Vanderhoff says. I'd been playing a lot of pick-up games, but an actual game is different. It took me a game to get comfortable.

Vanderhoff is shooting a highly respectable 41 percent from the 3-point line, he's hitting at a 45-percent clip from the field overall and he's making 82 percent of his free throws.

He's a very tough guy to guard because he can take the ball to the hoop and shoot from the outside equally well, says Kelly, whose Wolves were 7-9 entering Thursday night's game against Western New Mexico. And he's a good leaper.

The night he scored 33, the other team put a bigger guy on him to begin with in an effort to keep him from shooting. But Mike just drove right around him. Then they stuck a point guard on him, and Mike was easily able to shoot over him.

Vanderhoff's most spectacular play with the Wolves came on Jan. 2 against Humboldt State, when he drove the baseline and dunked over a much taller post player.

That was my first dunk in college and it felt awfully good, says Vanderhoff, who has since added a fastbreak slam to his collection.

The Wolves are a running, pressing team that puts as many as four guards on the court to go with 6-foot-8, 250-pound Tim Clark, a former Sutherlin High School star.

The style of play is a perfect fit for Vanderhoff.

I have a lot of freedom on the court, and that really makes it fun, he says. Coach (Kelly) gives us the green light to shoot the 3s, and we don't have to worry too much about making mistakes.

Vanderhoff left Portland State just over a year ago. Although he had success as a freshman, averaging 11.6 points per game and setting a school record for 3-point goals in a season (59), he didn't like the approach of then-coach Ritchie McKay, whom Vanderhoff says continually shouted at his players. Vanderhoff also didn't like the setup at PSU, where the students commute to school and don't live on campus.

It just wasn't for me, he says.

Vanderhoff returned to Medford and spent several months deciding on where he wanted to transfer. He considered Southern Oregon and Oregon Tech but settled on Western Oregon, which is in the process of changing from an NAIA school to an NCAA Division II school.

More scholarships are allowed under the latter affiliation and the caliber of play is a bit higher.

I really like it here, Vanderhoff says of the Monmouth-based university. I've gotten to know a lot more people than I ever did at Portland State, and I just like the small-town atmosphere.

And the basketball players have been good to me.

Vanderhoff enrolled at WOU last spring and found his way into the gym. His new teammates respected his skills and work ethic so much that they voted him one of the team captains weeks before he would play his first game.

That surprised me a little bit, Vanderhoff says. That was flattering.

Vanderhoff hopes to play three seasons with the Wolves, but is awaiting word from the NCAA concerning his eligibility. Because he played in one game last season for Portland State -- an exhibition game against the Australian national team -- he could lose that year of eligibility and thus be a junior right now instead of a sophomore.

I don't think it would be fair for me to lose a year of eligibility for playing in a game that didn't even count on their record, Vanderhoff says. But I'm not losing any sleep over it. Whatever happens, happens.